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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

The Highs and Lows of Friday August 12th

John Woodman

Thanks to an early warning from Chris Pannell at BTS I was determined to sample the trial electric bus on test in service on Friday - which of course happened to be one of the hottest days of the year (so far). I duly made my way to Cleveleys Victoria Square having established the fact that the distinctive all blue vehicle had already passed north en route to the 'Affinity' retail park formerly known as Freeport Fleetwood. So I could catch it on its southbound journey. Waiting almost an hour in glaring sunlight I had almost given up hope (and patience) when the unmistakable sight of the Wright bodied demonstrator appeared preparing to traverse across the road junction towards the bus stop I had just vacated. Hurriedly retracing my steps I managed to gain access and prepared to tender my pass when the driver indicated I should continue on into the bus.

Apart from two other solitary passengers I was able to take in the somewhat sparse interior layout and its forward facing stairs. Unusually the bus carried a 'roving conductor' who was positioned next to the centre doorwell and cheerily dealt with my pass explaining this was a 'one off' event and not a precursor to conductors being introduced across the bus fleet (although of course the trams had contrarily had to hang on to conductor operation), The bus was not fitted with Blackpool's fare handling/processing equipment hence need for the additional member of staff. This was its last day of testing in Blackpool on the promenade number 1 service which Chris Pannell had referenced hence my keenness in sampling the very first all electric bus operated by BTS - and a precursor of what was to come in the near term.

Below : Finally - the all electric demonstrator on Service 1 arrives at my stop in Cleveleys.

With no sounds of diesel power or indeed anything else it was slightly disorienting to ride along the promenade in almost total silence (on a bus). I was informed by the conductor (Chris) that the bus was a superb ride although I found the sudden deacceleration and braking to be somewhat sharp, as was the reverse. Perhaps in time driver familiarity would compensate for the traits of electric motive power operation with its frequent stops and starts in urban service. The journey, in increasing road traffic, was relatively unremarkable until we arrived at North Pier where police and BTS staff were trying to deal with outflow of passengers from a northbound tram that had come unstuck (as it were). Our bus had to contend with an influx of southbound tram passengers summarily deposited due to termination of service at North Pier on both tracks. As we passed slowly by the disabled tram the cause became clear with half a pantograph above its roofline. The heat had resulted in sagging power wires at the North Pier junction where the three way track layout needed especial overhead wiring. The tram's pantograph had snared in the resulting lower hanging wires and consequently been ripped off its base bringing service to a summary halt, providentially almost at the North Pier stop platform. Crowds of intending riders were thus denied further travel northbound (and south) while an almost full Flexity had to disgorge its entire load into the roadway on the offside. More about all of this in the next Blog.

Below : Chris our cool conductor well dressed for the very hot travel he was enduring.

Below : A conductor's life is a happy one - on an almost empty bus!

With a nearly full load as we collected wannebe tram passengers heading to the Pleasure Beach our bus serenely continued on its way south passing increasingly irate crowds at the several tram stops on the Promenade. My journey ended at Waterloo Road where I alighted (for a Notrianni's icecream) and I said goodbye to this memorable journey never to be forgotten. It is worth mentioning that far too many years ago I similarly headed out in search of Blackpool's first open platform rear ended buses inaugurating service on the Cleveleys to Talbot Road Bus Station service 9. This was in 1957 and I remember racing across Bispham Road from the Library to catch one of the brand new Burlingham bodied (who else?) buses as it prepared to move off from the bus layby. The bus was 303 (or was it 304?) and of course of an entirely different layout from the standard centre entrance fleet introduced by Mr Luff in 1933. Heads turned as we made our way into town with gleaming paintwork and new seating moquette design among many other differences. This trial batch would prove to be the very last buses built for Blackpool Corporation by HV Burlingham and it seemed that the company had made especial efforts to create an impressive design. But of course a competing builder trumped the local firm on price with a less than solid model - their infamous 'Orion' design which went on to provide Blackpool with an entire new generation of buses from 1958 to 1968. Sadly none of the five Burlingham bodied models (301 - 305) survive.

Journey's end at Waterloo Road and a final 'snap' of the Wright Bus electric demonstrator as it catches the sun's rays on its journey southward to Starr Gate. All images by the Author. Thanks Chris and Chris.


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