History November 2011 - present

When 707 returned to Rigby Road depot on 6th November, it was expected that there would be a quiet period with few trams out on test over the winter, to allow the upgrade to be completed in time for Easter 2012, when the upgraded tramway would reopen.

However, the 5 months that the tramway was closed turned out to be an extremely busy time.  

In a surprise move, Cardiff Water Car 131 arrived on loan from Crich Tramway museum and was used to prepare the track between Pleasure Beach and Starr Gate for use.   Other than a couple of test runs and the official unveiling of the first flexity tram during Autumn 2011, the Pleasure Beach – Starr Gate section had been out of use since 147 left Starr Gate on the final service in September 2009.   131 returned to Crich in March 2012 however before it left, 131 ran from Starr Gate to Foxhall, then into Rigby Road depot, where a low loader was waiting to take the tram home.   Meanwhile, the temporary and permanent tram stops from the original system were removed while work continued to prepare the new platforms and the northern stretch from Ash Street – Fleetwood ready for reopening.

The sight of a low loader at Rigby Road was a familiar one during the winter period with a number of tramsdeparting for new homes.   Stockport 5, Sheffield 513, 621, 625, 627, 630, 678, 671+681, 761, 762, 708 and 726 departed before the end of 2011, with 641,643,644,645,646,637,673+683,687,605,607,143 and 721 going during early 2012.

Whilst members of the old fleet were departing Blackpool, the arrival, testing and acceptance of the new Flexity trams continued at a steady pace.   It wasn’t just the new Flexities that were seen out on the system as 631, 648, 709 and 723 as well as various other members of the old fleet were all seen at various times checking clearances, testing new track and checking the alignment of the overhead.  

In the workshops, Balloons 711 and 719, both of which ran on the final day of the old system were admitted to the works to receive door pods to make them compatible with the new platforms that appeared all over the system.

February 2012 saw Flexity 001 carrying a special visitor, 001 was carrying Prince Andrew, who was in town to open Festival House, the building housing the tourist information centre and the Wedding Chapel next to North Pier.   Driver Training and testing continued and increased as the reopening of the tramway approached.    On Tuesday 3rd April 2012, the day prior to the service commencing, some lucky members of the public, who had won the chance to travel over the tramway on the official launch tram, got to travel from Starr Gate – Fleetwood and return on Flexity 008. 

 The first day in service

On Wednesday 4th April, the new dawn for the tramway began, with Flexity 006 starting off the new era with the first journey to Fleetwood.   However just after 006 departed Fleetwood Ferry on the return journey, the tram derailed on the curve at Pharos Street due to a build up of sand in the rails.   The trams turned at Ash Street whilst 006 was rerailed.   001, 004, 007, 008, 009 were the other trams making up the 20 minute service, with 011 replacing 006.   The rest of the day went off without a hitch.

The 5th of April saw the first special operated on the new system, when Millennium 724, one of the members of the newly created ‘B’ fleet was seen out.   724 would have made it to Fleetwood had it not developed a door fault hadn’t meant the tram had to terminate at Little Bispham and return to depot out of service.   

Good Friday on 6th April 2012 saw the introduction of the Weekend Heritage service, which would operate every weekend until the end of the illuminations.   Bolton 66, making a comeback after 18 months out of service was the star of the show along with Standard 147, however as the weather was cold, they were replaced by 736 and 737 in the afternoon.  

Easter Saturday 2012 saw 40 and 706 on the Heritage Service, both trams were making a return to service, having not been used since 2010.   Whilst Balloon 713 became the first pod fitted balloon to reach Fleetwood when it was sent there on a special due to late running service cars.    

Brush Car 627, which was now owned by the Friends of Fleetwood had been repainted into a special livery for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.   The tram was displayed on a short piece of track at Pleasure Beach loop.   Meanwhile the Rocket Illuminations tram 732 was displayed in the centre of the Roundabout at Gynn Square.

At the introduction of the Flexity fleet, the heritage fleet consisted of Fleetwood 40, Bolton 66, Standard 147, Boat 600, Balloon 706, Balloon 717 and the illuminated fleet.   There was also a number of trams in store.   It wouldn’t be long however before the heritage fleet was expanded with Boat Car 604 receiving 1960’s livery, being renumbered back to number 230.   The tram was named George Formby and received images of him in the trolley roundels.   230 was launched into service in June 2012.

On July 28th 2012 following a car crashing into a traction pole near Harrow Place, all trams based at Starr Gate except for Flexity 012, which had already entered service for the day, were trapped in depot.   B Fleet trams 700, 709, 718 and 724, which were stabled at Rigby Road, were brought into service and saw use until the early afternoon, when the Flexity trams were once again able to leave the depot.

672+682 and 648 had originally been earmarked for the National Tramway Museum at Crich, however, due to a lack of space at Crich, the trams remained at Blackpool.   This had a really positive effect for the Heritage Fleet as 672+682 entered service in the original cream livery and wearing their original numbers of 272+T2 in July 2012.   648 also returned to service soon after, originally in its advertising livery for the Hounds Hill Centre but later repainted into 80’s Green and Cream livery and with some of it’s later amendments reversed.   631 also re-entered service in Summer 2012 and originally it entered service in the Walls all over advert that it carried in it’s final years in service.  The tram would receive a version of the 1950’s green and cream livery and would also lose a number of the modernised features that it received in it’s 1995 overhaul.

OMO 8, Balloons 704 and 715 and Brush Cars 632 and 259 (624) were moved to outside storage by the LTT, being stored on a piece of waste ground at Burton Road in Blackpool. Close by in Jacksons bus yard, Twin Car Motor 671 was stored, allowing a rarely seen view of the inner end of a Twin car.

The 2012 illuminations saw a number of the heritage trams and the illuminated fleet seeing use either on the weekend heritage service or on Illuminations tours.   Members of the B Fleet also found some useduring the October Half Term week.        

Further additions to the heritage fleet would follow:

In both 2013 and 2014, the heritage fleet were limited to appearances at Bank Holiday weekends and in the evenings during the illuminations.

Brush Car 627, on display at Pleasure Beach, was repainted into a Graffiti Art livery during Summer 2013.

631 and 648 made their debuts in their new liveries in 2013, whilst Boat 602 was repainted into red and cream livery.   The style was the same as the 1930’s livery, however the livery was fictional but looks fantastic and shows how it would have looked if red hadn’t been replaced by green as the main colour.   602 re-entered service as 227, 602’s original fleet number, in August 2013.  

Another tram that made it’s heritage debut during 2013 was Centenary 642.   It was expected to be 642’s last ever appearance in service as at the time it was expected that the tram would become a source of spare parts for 648.   However 642, still in it’s faded yellow base coat from it’s final few years, is still occasionally seen out on the heritage service, mainly during the Gold Weekends and is seen

as a backup tram for 648. Balloons 701 and 723 made what at the time was expected to be a one off appearance on the heritage service during the May Bank Holiday in their Yellow Base Coat and Sands Venue Advert liveries respectively.

Boat 604 was returned in 60's Green and Cream livery, whilst 602 received a fictional but attractive red and cream livery.   Centenary 648 returned to service, initially in the Hounds Hill centre livery it carried during 2011, but soon this gave way to original 1980's livery.   642 also saw occasional use in its yellow base coat that it has carried for a number of years.   

Boat 605, which had been sold to the LTT, who loaned the tram to Beamish, sold the tram to the Muni Tramway in San Francisco with the tram departing for America during September 2013.

The expected use of the B Fleet for specials and for an intermediate service between Pleasure Beach and Cleveleys never really materialised.   Other than very occasional use on specials, the B fleet were rarely seen except for a couple of appearances on the Heritage Service.   As a result, most of the fleet were stored in 2013.

From the B Fleet, 700, 711 and 719 were used the most due to them being painted and vynaled in the new tramway colours of purple and white.   707, 709, 713, 718 and 724 were stored.   720, although refurbished, has never ran on the upgraded tramway, it’s last use was on the final day of service prior to the completion of the upgrade.   The tram when being shunted in depot with its new driver controlled doors open, when the doors collided with a traction pole.   The doors were damaged and as the tram hasn’t as yet been required they haven’t been replaced.

In December 2013, the trams of the LTT fleet were donated back to Blackpool Heritage Tramways Trust, meaning that over the next few weeks, Standard 143, Coronations 304 and 663, OMO 8, Railcoach 679 (279), Brush 259(624), Brush 632, and Balloons 704 and 715 returned to Rigby Road. Ex Towing Railcoach 680 departed Blackpool, not bound for Heaton Park (not straight away anyway) but to Beamish on loan, where in all over cream (with a thin green band) the tram was a great asset to the Beamish fleet for the year that it was there.   Also arriving into Rigby Road for undercover storage was Jubilee tram 761.

During 2014, balloon 701 was the next tram to join the heritage fleet, following a repaint into the routemaster red and white livery that the tram carried from 1990 – 1993, 701 returned to service in time for the August Bank Holiday.   Trawler 737 was withdrawn at the end of the illuminations for a refresh. Fleetwood 40 went back to Crich for part of the season as part of the tram’s 100th Anniversary in service.   Also heading to Derbyshire for the season was Balloon 711.   Pantograph 167 headed the other way spending time in Blackpool on loan.   Brush 627, still on display at the Pleasure Beach, was repainted from its Graffiti art livery into a far more tasteful half Green and Cream livery.

From 2015, more use was made of the heritage fleet with a 2 car service running most weekends and during school holidays.   Another bonus was that there would be a Gold Running weekend, each month featuring at least 6 trams running on the Heritage service and this would include trams running to Fleetwood.

Ex Towing Railcoach 680 returned to Blackpool in February 2015 on a 2 year long loan.   680 looking fantastic in 90’s Green and Cream livery, made it’s debut soon afterwards and has been a regular and reliable runner on the Heritage service ever since.

Balloon 715 made a welcome return to service in the Heritage fleet during the May Day Bank Holiday and ran in 90’s Green and Cream livery with between deck advertising for Fleetwood Tram Sunday.    Over the summer, Twin Car 675+685, which still retained its Metro livery from its final days in service, was taken into the paint shop, and repainted and activated as part of the Heritage fleet in 1970’s Green and Cream.

Brush Car 627 was removed from its track at the Pleasure Beach during Summer 2015 and moved to Rigby Road for undercover storage, its place being taken by Centenary 641, which had been decorated with a display for Blackpool FC.

During the final weekend in September, the tramway was celebrating its 130th Anniversary.   This included organised depot tours, shuttle tram between Rigby Road and Starr Gate, a heritage service that would see every serviceable tramcar appear on the service over the 2 days, a free bus journey along the previously closed town tramway routes, 2 trams returning to service for the heritage fleet and line ups of withdrawn and rarely seen trams on the depot fan and along the Fitting Shop wall.  

Twin Car 675+685 was one of the stars of the weekend as it was launched back into service on the Saturday.   There was also a ‘Scruffy Surprise’ in Balloon 723, which joined the heritage fleet having being stripped of its Sands Venue advert vynals to reveal the 1980’s Green and Cream livery previously carried by the tram.   The tram did look a bit scruffy as some of the paint had came off, but it was great to see it back in service!

Over the course of the 2 days 40, 66, 147, 600, 227, 230, 631, 642, 648, 272+T2, 675+685, 680, 700, 701, 706, 711, 715, 717, 719, 723, 733+734 and 736 were all used on the heritage service.

Line ups at the depot included the last 3 Coronations in existence - 304, 660 and 663 lined up on the depot fan on the Saturday, with Frigate 737, Rocket 732 and Twin Car 676+686 on the Sunday. Along the fitting shop wall was Jubilee 761, Frigate 737 and Brush Car 632 on the Saturday and Millennium Balloons 707, 709 and Balloon 720.  

Into January 2016 and the announcement that Brush Car 634, which had left the tramway in 2009 for restoration by enthusiast Andy Ashton and his family, was to return to Blackpool as part of the heritage fleet. 634 had originally moved to outdoor storage at a heritage railway in Rushden, where it lost its Cala Gran all over advert and blue undercoat and was repainted into the 1990’s Green and Cream Livery with Black window surrounds.   The interior was restored back to an approximation of how the tram would have looked

when it entered service in 1937.   In 2014, 634 moved to the North East Sea Land and Air Museum near Sunderland, where work continued undercover in its custom built tramshed. 634 returned to Rigby Road in February 2016 and is hopefully going to enter service with the heritage fleet during 2017.   Trailer 681 also returned to Rigby Road during 2016 from outside storage at Fleetwood Docks.   681 is expected to be reunited with 671 in the future for a commercial venture, which as yet hasn’t been revealed!   The lower deck from Lytham St Annes 43, the only known surviving car from that system arrived for future restoration back to an open top double decker, that would provide one of the missing pieces in the jigsaw of the Fylde tramway history.

Marton 31, based at Beamish arrived at Blackpool in February 2016 on a year long loan with Standard 147 going the opposite way.   The arrival of Marton 31 was a boost as the arrival of the popular open topper compensated for the loss of open top balloon 706, which was withdrawn in need of an overhaul.  

On 22nd March 2016 Norbreck North Tram stop opened. The original stop had closed in 2011 on the final day before the upgrade but was reinstated, with the building of platforms to allow the Flexity Trams to stop there.

2015’s ‘Scruffy Surprise’, Balloon 723, was treated to a fresh coat of 1980’s Green and Cream livery during the spring of 2016, with the tram making its debut run in its new coat of paint on 30th April. In July, Millennium Balloon 718 was being stripped of its Madam Tussaud’s advert livery to reveal its base coat of all over white.   The tram, made its first run since 2013 and had joined the Heritage fleet. It proved to be an extremely useful addition especially during illuminations tours as the flat front offered a particularly good view from the front deck.

Balloon 708, which had been based at the North East Sea Land and Air Museum near Sunderland, returned to Blackpool for storage, while the Hovertram 735 returned for a future restoration and return to service.   Both returned in September.

Following the popular 130th anniversary weekend the previous year, the event was repeated again in 2016 (as the 131st anniversary weekend!) with similar events to the 2015 event.

Over the course of the weekend, the trams used on the Heritage service were:

31, 40, 66, 600, 227, 230, 631 (one journey on the depot shuttle), 648, 272+t2, 675+685, 680, 700, 701,711, 715, 717, 718, 719, 723, 733+734, 736

On the depot fan was Coronation 304, Brush 631 and Twin Car Trailer 681 and 754 and 733+734 along the fitting shop wall on the Saturday and 708, 709 and Rocket 732 on the fan and 631 and 632 along the fitting shop wall on the Sunday.

The weekend did not go entirely to plan with an electrical fire in twin car motor 272 at Gynn Square on Saturday, causing severe disruption and requiring the set to be towed in and Boat 600 derailing on the way off Pleasure Beach loop also disrupted proceedings on the Sunday.

Trawler 737 was launched back into service during October 2016, following a refurbishment meaning the interior seating was retrimmed in the more traditional moquette instead of the more modern ‘explosion in a paint factory’ look.   Externally, it was fitted with thousands of LED bulbs and received a new lighting system that allows multiple different colours, messages and graphics to be displayed.   The tram was relaunched on 7th October and despite some teething troubles with the computer controlling the new lights, looks spectacular.

On 3rd December, Glasgow 1016, arrived in Blackpool.   The tram, which had been under restoration by the Scottish International Tramway Association at the Bridgeton Bus Museum, was offered to the Blackpool Heritage Tram Trust to restore back its original form as an open top double deck.    

A welcome surprise on 8th December, was a return to Rigby Road for Brush Car 621.  621 had left Blackpool in 2011, heading to Kirkham Prison for storage.   In 2014, 621 was sold to Beamish, where it was stored in the depot.   Beamish had originally planned to restore the tram to its original condition as 284, however a lack of space at the depot saw the tram being offered back to Blackpool.   With 621’s historic value as being the first Brush Car built, Blackpool gratefully accepted it!   Balloon 703 was also offered back to Blackpool from Beamish.  

A crowd fund operation was launched and the £1000 transport cost to bring 703 home was raised in less than 24 hours. 703 returned home in March 2017.   621 is expected to return to service in September 2017 as part of the 80th anniversary of the Brush Cars, whilst 623 is returned on loan and re entered service on 14th July 2017 and will remain in Blackpool until November 2017.   761 has returned to Blackpool Heritage Tram Trust ownership and should return to service sometime in the future.

Birkenhead 20 arrived on loan in late July 2017 and will remain at Blackpool for 1 year.   This tram should give a much needed boost to the heritage service as there are currently no other open top double deckers available for service with Balloon 706 currently withdrawn awaiting overhaul.   Centenary 645 also returned to Blackpool to join the heritage Fleet in July 2017 as it was declared surplus by its owners at the Windy Harbour Holiday Park.