Tram 761 Another One Off (and 762)
Balloon Car 263 was selected from storage to become the 'guinea pig' for a conceptual one-man operated double deck tram following on the successful rebuilding of English Electric since deck rail coaches to 'OMO Car' configueration during the 1970s. Thirteen in total examples being modified in Rigby Road Works to create a fleet large enough to sustain winter season service. The need for larger capacity models grew in part through the proliferation of schools along the northern section of the tramway from Anchorsholme to Fleetwood, with consequent peak hour demand in the morning and mid afternoon. This was noticeable at certain stops along the line when driver only single deck trams proved unable to handle the swollen number of pupils all clamouring to board.
The Transport Department had experience of school loadings on the Marton service where several large schools were sited in proximity along Church Street, Whitegate Drive and Waterloo Road. To deal with the ebb and flow of increased demand on the service Marton Depot turned out two double deck trams in the morning and afternoons. These traversed the line in opposite directions from Royal Oak to Talbot Square and vice versa. Up to the mid early 1950s the tram service had relied on Blackpool's Standard cars - which were capable of dealing with peak loadings and which provided pupils with the chance to 'socialise' on the top deck. The open balcony Standards providing particularly enjoyable journeys for those fortunate enough to crowd on to the ends of the top deck allowing verbal assaults on pedestrians below as the tram passed by. Needless to say the conductors had their hands full with rowdy and excitable juveniles. With the advent of the single deck 'Marton Vambacs' and supplemental rail coaches, such youthful enjoyment was diminished. But the need for additional peak hour journey capacity was not. Accordingly two 'Balloon' cars were fitted with swivel head trolley wheels and assigned to Marton Depot to augment the regular service runs during weekdays. The diminished number of Standard cars being then used solely for Promenade and Illuminations Extra duties during the summer and autumn months.
School Special Balloon 241 having left Marton Depot passes the Oxford Hotel stop en route to Royal Oak for its daily journey to Talbot Square in 1961. Photo : John Woodman
Likewise on the Fleetwood run large capacity double deck trams were timed to catch queuing school children en route to and from their classes each weekday. It was felt that 'Balloon' cars would similarly provide extra seats and space with operating economies through operation as one man cars in normal service hours. Accordingly a trial rebuild of a single example (in this case 262/725) was authorised. Extensive reconstruction of the tram, including strengthened bogie frames and new lightweight control equipment saw a front entrance (and exit) design emerge in 1979 with a bolted on end section (at both ends). Renumbered 761 the car had a close resemblance to Blackpool's new double deck 'Atlantean' buses then entering service - to the extent of being painted in a similar green and cream livery. The trial was a qualified success inasmuch it was found that reliance on the single end door to handle both boarding and unloading when large numbers of passengers needed one or the other (or both) created longer 'dwell time' at stops.
Rigby Road Works Body Shop in 1978 with the remodelled front end section having been fitted on to the original Balloon Car teak frame. (Left). The new single end indicator being completed (Above), Both Photos : John Woodman Archive
Thus a second modified design was tested on a further 'Balloon Car' but in this case the centre platform doors were retained for use as exit doors The body styling stayed the same, but the bogies were given stronger frames and slightly repositioned. Retention of two stairs and centre exit doors on the lower deck meant loss of seating from the prototype model, however this was deemed acceptable given the improved 'passenger flow' for exiting the tram which was numbered 762. In both cases the two rebuilt trams went on to the end of the tramway in its traditional form in 2011. Fortunately both examples were acquired for preservation with 762 going first to the National Tram Museum at Crich, while 761 was snapped up by Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust for their intended museum. The failure of the latter scheme saw 761 later being assigned to the Blackpool Transport backed heritage scheme at Rigby Road, which was felt to be an appropriate home for this locally designed rebuild. Both cars at present remain in their final sponsor advertising state in which they became familiar sights towards the end of their service.
BELOW : Jubilee 761 on its move to storage in Fleetwood. Photo : John Woodman