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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Tram 638 - A One Off

john Woodman

Blackpool Transport's determination to institute year round services with one man operated trams mirrored the same approach already in place with the bus fleet in the 1970s. The large capacity crew operated Metro Cammell bodied Leylands were no longer financially sustainable and had been replaced by AEC chassis single deckers with austere Marshall bodies. Painted in all over cream which was then the prevailing economics driven policy of Manager Joe Franklin, the need for an equivalent tram version ended up with a hybrid rebuild of a sample 'Brush' rail car. In this case number 638 was selected to trial conversion to front entrance centre exit design with modified cab allowing the driver to collect fares from boarding passengers.

Much like the earlier passenger flow experiment using Burlingham bodied PD2 number 305 which ended up with two staircases and rear entrance front exit modification - the well intentioned redesign of 638 could not be called a success. In fact it never turned a wheel in actual passenger carrying service in its intended driver operated condition. As soon as the modified tram appeared in public the influencing voice of TGWU Trade Union put an embargo on its members being assigned to the tram in public service.

Among the list of criticisms cited by the Union were : inability of the driver to properly secure the cash receipt box in the event he had to leave his driving position for any reason; difficulty in retrieving the trolley pole in the event of dewirement; impediment for the driver to view passenger egress through the centre exit doorway caused by standing passengers; too narrow front entrance; physical difficulty in handling fares and issuing tickets from a seated position. and to the rear of the driver. All in all these multiple operating no nos condemned the work on 638 to a wasted exercise. A back to the drawing board decision saw shared consultation between management, Engineering Works staff and crews = out of which bloomed the much improved redesign of an English Electric rail coach which went on to serve as the template for a thirteen strong class of 'OMO Cars'.

Having expended workshop time and financial costs on the 638 experiment the Transport Department was loath to see this wasted with the result that the tram's 'front entrances' were panelled over and seating returned to original transverse format. This allowed the car to gain several more years of service initially retaining its all-cream livery until a repaint saw it given the then standard half green half cream style of the single deck fleet. On withdrawal the tram attracted few takers (although it was offered to the Author then living in New York) and sadly ended up being scrapped after open storage in Rigby Road bus yard. Fortunately the author managed to catch 638 in service on two occasions during UK visits; with this brief encounter on the Promenade captured for the record. Both Photos : John Woodman

Right The FW Woolworth building has a working clock, while behind its the distinctive turret of the Palatine Building as 638 trundles northbound from the 'Central Station' stop.

A classic view of 638 passing the tram shelter opposite the Tower Building with unhappy waiting passengers and a Duty Inspector supervising the scene. A corner of the impressive Lewis's Building in the right hand of the photo - such a pity this was later demolished to be replaced by a mundane brick structure, Photo John Woodman


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