History November 2011 - present

Preparations for re-opening

When Millennium Balloon 707 returned to Rigby Road depot on 6th November, it was the start of a busy 5 month period of preparations for the reopening of the upgraded tramway.  

Work commenced almost straight away to remove any remaining original and temporary tram stops from the old system, whilst the new platforms were completed and kitted out with shelters, seating units and lighting.   Work was also continuing on the northern stretch of track through Fleetwood Town Centre to get it ready for reopening.  

The trackwork between Pleasure Beach and Starr Gate had been relayed and despite having been completed some time earlier, had remained unused in the latter days of the old system with only a couple of test runs both using the new and old fleets having been carried out as well as the visit of Balloons 700, 717 and Brush Car 632 for the unveiling of Flexity 001 on 8th September 2011. 

To prepare the track for re-opening, a surprise visitor in the form of Cardiff Water Car 131 arrived on loan from Crich Tramway Museum and was used to clean and prepare the newly laid track for use.

The sight of a low loader at Rigby Road was a familiar one during the winter period with a number of trams departing for new homes.   Stockport 5, Sheffield 513, 621, 625, 627, 630, 678, 671+681, 761, 762, 708 and 726 had all departed the tramway for pastures new before the end of 2011, with 641, 643, 644, 645, 646, 637, 673+683, 687, 605, 607,143 and 721 leaving during early 2012. Two trams that weren't leaving were Twin Car 672+682 and Centenary Car 648.   Both trams had originally been earmarked for Crich Tramway Museum, however a lack of space there led to them remaining at Rigby Road, with a then unknown future.

Whilst a many members of the old fleet were departing Blackpool, the arrival, testing and acceptance of the new Flexity trams continued at a steady pace, however it wasn't just the new Flexities that were seen out on the system both on test and driver training, members of the old fleet were also seen out and about, including: 631, 648, 709 and 723 which were used to check clearances, cleaning the new track and checking the alignment of the overhead.  

Rigby Road's workshops remained busy with a repaint to Brush Car 630 and an overhaul, repanel and repaint to 607 on behalf of Crich before both trams joined their fleet.   Another pair in the workshops were Balloons 711 and 719, they were admitted to the works, following service on the last day of the old system, to be fitted with door pods and new powered doors to make them compatible with the new platforms built for the Flexity trams.

Flexity 001 became the first of the new fleet to carry a passenger, when during February 2012 the tram was used to transport Prince Andrew, to North Pier to open the then newly completed Festival House.   Festival house hosts the tourist information centre a cafe and the Wedding Chapel and is located next to North Pier.   Through out February and right up to the reopening, Driver Training and testing continued and increased as the reopening of the tramway got closer.    

Cardiff Water Car 131 returned to Crich in March 2012, having completed it's role of track cleaning, rather than loading the tram up at Starr Gate, 131 ran under it's own power from Starr Gate to Foxhall, allowing local enthusiasts to get some photographs of this unique tram on the prom. 131 then run into Rigby Road depot, where a low loader was waiting to take the tram back to Crich. 

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.  Flexity 006 made history as the first tram of the start of a new era to leave Starr Gate heading to Fleetwood carrying Fare paying passengers.   The journey to Fleetwood went without a hitch, however, just after 006 departed Fleetwood Ferry on the return journey to Starr Gate, the tram derailed on the curve into Pharos Street due to a build up of sand in the rails.   The other trams in service reversed at Fisherman's Walk whilst 006 was rerailed.   The other trams in service on this historic day were   001, 004, 007, 008, 009  and were operating to a 20 minute service, Flexity 011 came out into service to replace 006.   The rest of the day went off without a hitch.

The initial services were operating at a 20 minute frequency as not all the fleet had yet been delivered  / commissioned for passenger service, also work was continuing on the Bold Street SubStation in Fleetwood, meaning there was only enough power output for one tram at a time to be drawing power in the Town Centre section. Only one tram was allowed to enter the Town Centre section of Fleetwood at a time until the substation was commissioned.

Maundy Thursday (April 5th) was another historical day for the newly upgraded tramway as the first special of the new era was seen out and about. Millennium Balloon 724, which was one of the members of the newly created ‘B’ was used on this day.   724 would have made it to Fleetwood had it not developed a fault with it's new powered doors.   Unfortunately the fault meand that the tram had to terminate at Little Bispham and return to depot out of service.   

On Good Friday (April 6th) the newly introduced Weekend Heritage service, operated for the first time.   The service would then go on to operate every weekend half hourly between Pleasure Beach and Bispham until the start of the illuminations.   The first trams to be used on the service were  Bolton 66, which was making a comeback after 18 months out of service and Standard 147.   It turned out to be a bitterly cold day and both trams were replaced by the illuminated Frigate (736) and  the Trawler (737) in the afternoon.  

There was a different line up on the Heritage Service on Easter Saturday as Blackpool and Fleetwood 40 and Open Topped Balloon 706 made their debut, with  both trams returning to service after a 2 year layoff.   This day also saw the first special of the new era to reach Fleetwood as 713 became the first pod fitted balloon to reach the northern terminus, being sent to cover for late running service Flexities.    

A new role had been found for Brush Car 627, the tram, which was now owned by the Friends of Fleetwood, found use as an 'Illuminated Tableaux' at Pleasure Beach, having been repainted into a specially designed livery to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.   The tram was mounted and displayed on a short section of track at the Pleasure Beach loop during May2012 and would spend the next few years in this spot wearing various paint jobs.  

At the introduction of the Flexity fleet, the fledgling heritage fleet consisted of just 9 trams.   These were: Fleetwood 40, Bolton 66, Standard 147, Boat 600, Balloon 706, Balloon 717, The Western Train, The Frigate and the Trawler.   There was also still  a number of trams, many with heritage pedigree still in store.   It wouldn't be long however before the heritage fleet was expanded to include Boat Car 604.   604 was repainted into 1960’s livery and renumbered back to it's original number: 230.   230 was named George Formby and images of him were fitted in the trolley tower roundels and the tram was launched into service in June 2012.

Further additions to the Heritage Fleet

When the traditional fleet were put up for preservation / sale, Twin Car 672+682 and Centenary Car 648 had originally been earmarked for the National Tramway Museum, however, due to a lack of space at Crich, the museum rejected both trams and they instead remained at Blackpool.    This turned out to be a positive step in the expansion of the Heritage Fleet.   Having only been withdrawn from revenue earning service just 9 months earlier, Twin Car 672+682's heritage status was secured as the tram entered service in July 2012 wearing the original cream Twin Car livery and renumbered back to their Pre 1968 fleet numbers: 272+T2.   There was the need for some wet weather and heater fitted trams for the heritage service saw Centenary 648 returned to service during Summer 2012, originally in its advertising livery for the Hounds Hill Centre, however the tram was  later repainted into 80’s Green and Cream livery and with some of it’s later amendments reversed.   Brush Car 631, similar to 648, 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, however 631 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 and regain original style life guards and swing over seating.   631, however lost it's heaters in the process.

The first large scale use of 'B' fleet Balloons on service occured on  July 28th 2012 when following a serious accident, involving 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 Balloons 700, 709, 718 and 724, which were all based at Rigby Road, were brought into service and operated between Pleasure Beach and Fleetwood until the early afternoon, when the Flexity trams were once again able to leave the depot.

Sadly, During 2012, 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 also stored, allowing a rarely seen view of the inner end of a Twin car.   Meanwhile the Rocket (732), was placed on loan to the Illuminations department at Blackpool Council.   Their team gave the tram a cosmetic exterior restoration, including the addition of some lighting and placed the tram as the centre piece of the display on the centre of the Roundabout at Gynn Square, where it would remain for a couple of seasons.

Moving on to the 2012 Illuminations period and most trams from the Heritage Fleet and some of the B Fleet supplemented the Illuminated fleet on Illuminations Tours.   The 'B' Fleet balloons also saw use during the October Half Term Week, though mainly on specials.   One tram from the B Fleet not to feature was the recently refurbished Balloon 720.   Balloon 720 had entered service at Easter 2011 and had seen use on the final day before closure for the upgrade to take place.  720's new driver controlled doors were left open when the tram was being shunted around the depot and collided with a traction pole causing damage.   Initially the tram was out of service awaiting replacement doors, however as the doors on 720 were unique and the company that originally manufactured them had gone bust, it was difficult to source replacements.   When it later became clear that 720 was surplus to requirements, the tram was withdrawn, having operated for a grand total of 8 months in a refurbished condition.

2013

Moving into 2013 and in a move that would disappoint many visitors and enthusiasts, the decision was taken to only run the heritage fleet on Bank Holiday weekends and during the Illuminations both during 2013, this also occured in 2014 as well.

Work began on repainting Brush Car 627 during Spring 2013.   Having being painted into a livery to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen's Golden Jubilee and placed on display at Pleasure Beach in 2012, 627 sprayed painted gold and had Graffiti Art applied.    The tram was unveiled in this livery in Summer 2013.

Having debuted with the heritage fleet in 2012, Brush Car 631 and Centenary Car 648 entered service with the Heritage Fleet in 2013 wearing heritage liveries.   Brush Car 631 entered service wearing 1950's Green and Cream livery and with some elements of it's 1995 refurbishment reversed.  631 lost its indicators for a more traditional headlights and red marker light combination.  The interior saw the replacement of the bus seats with swing over seats, which unfortunately meant the

removal of the heaters.   Further modifications during Winter 2013 saw the restoration of the traditional lifeguard arrangement on the cab ends.   648 wasthe recipient of the 1980's Centenary Car livery.   648 would also the reversal of some modifications, mainly the removal of the higher body sides above window and door level, which were meant to stop pantograph grease running down the body sides.   The fibre glass skirts, which were found under each cab were removed and replaced with traditional lifeguards.

Another tram that made it’s heritage debut during 2013 was Centenary 642.   642's debut at the late May Bank Holiday was expected to be it's last ever appearance in service as it was expected that the tram would become a source of spare parts for sister car 648.   However 642, still in it’s faded yellow base coat from it’s final few years has soldiered on and is still in use on the heritage service today. The same holiday weekend saw Balloons 701 and 723 make what at the time was expected to be one off appearances on the heritage service in their Yellow Base Coat and Sands Venue Advert liveries respectively that they ended their service days in.

Next to debut as a member of the heritage fleet was Boat Car 602.   602 lost it's Yellow and Black Handy bus livery in favour of a fictional Red and Cream 1930's style livery.   Despite being fictional as the Boat's were introduced as the Corporation's red fleet colour was replaced with green, 602 looks fantastic and shows how the trams 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.  

In 2012, Boat 605, which had been sold to the LTT a year earlier, loaned the popular Boat Car to  Beamish Museum, however during 2013, the LTT took the decision to sell the tram to the Muni Tramway in San Francisco.   605 departed 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.   Balloons, 700, 711 and 719 were first choice to be used in service as they were painted in the new fleet livery of purple and white.   The rest of the B fleet, which were wearing expired all over adverts or in the case of 720 was awaiting repairs to it's damaged set of doors, were stored.   The trams stored were: 707, 709, 713, 718, 720 and 724.  

In December 2013, the trams of the LTT fleet were donated back to Blackpool Heritage Tramways Trust.   Over the following weeks, Standard 143, Coronations 304 and 663, OMO 8, Railcoach 679 (279), Brush 259(624), Brush 632, Balloon 704 and Balloon 715 returned to Rigby Road either from the LTT's Brinwell Road premises or from open storage.

In early 2014, Ex Towing Railcoach 680 departed Blackpool.   The tram, which was now owned by Heaton Park, was heading out on loan to Beamish. 680, which had been outshopped in the all cream with a thin green band original Twin Car / Towing Railcoach livery was a great asset to the Beamish fleet for the year that it was there.   Another tram arriving at Rigby Road for storage with the Friends of Fleetwood owned Jubilee tram 761.

2014

2014 was the centenary of the entry to service of Blackpool and Fleetwood 40.   As part of the celebrations, the tram returned to Crich (40 was on long term loan to the Blackpool Tramway from Crich) and spent part of the season running in service at Crich.   Another tram heading to Derbyshire for the season was Balloon 711.   This was 711's first time away from Blackpool since it was built.   In return for the loan of both trams, there was a welcome visitor in Pantograph 167, which spent some of the 2014 season in Blackpool on loan. 

Brush 627, remained on display at the Pleasure Beach during 2014, however the tram was to be repainted again, however this time, the tram was to lose the unpopular Graffiti art livery and was repainted into a far more tasteful and suitable half Green and Cream livery.

There was only one new addition to the heritage fleet during 2014, and it was a cracker!   Balloon 701 was repainted out of it's faded yellow base coat that it wore in it's final years in service and following sponsorship by the Fylde Tramway Society, the tram was repainted into the Routemaster red and white livery that the tram originally carried from the completion of it's overhaul in 1990  until 1993.  701 was returned to service in time for the August Bank Holiday, however it's official launch was on the Friday of the Glasgow September Weekend.  

Following the end of the Illuminations, illuminated Trawler 737 was withdrawn for a refresh of it's exterior and the interior.

2015 

In a move that was popular both with tourists and enthusiasts alike, Blackpool Heritage Tram Trust announced that a heritage service using 2 trams would run most weekends and during school holidays between Pleasure Beach and North Pier or Cabin.   As well as the 2 tram service, the other intresting development was the inclusion of a Gold weekend, on most months of the year and would feature at least 6 trams running on the Heritage service and would include workings to Bispham, Little Bispham, Cleveleys, Thornton Gate and Fleetwood.

Having only left Blackpool in 2013, Ex Towing Railcoach 680 returned to Rigby Road in February 2015 from Heaton Park, initially on a 2 year long loan, which has since been further extended.   At Heaton Park, 680 had been repainted from original cream Towing Railcoach livery back to the more suitable 90's Green and Cream livery, which the tram carried following it's refurbishment in the early 1990s.  The tram, which had also been renumbered 280 when carrying the cream livery, reverted back to 680 once more.    680 made it’s Heritage debut soon after and just like it's days in service, has been a regular and reliable runner on the Heritage service ever since it's return.

Further expansion of the Heritage Fleet occured during May 2015 with heritage service debut of unrefurbished Balloon 715.   The introduction of Balloon 715 showed another part of the evolution of the Balloon tram, with the typical unrefurbished interior that was found in most examples of the fleet from the 1960's onwards.    715's welcome return to service was during the May Day Bank Holiday and the tram was outshopped in 1990's Green and Cream livery with between deck advertising for Fleetwood Tram Sunday.   

Down at Pleasure Beach, the weather and the sea air were starting to take a toll on Brush Car 627, which was beginning to look in a bit of a sorry state.   During Summer 2015, the tram was removed from its display track and moved to Rigby Road by low loader for undercover storage.   627's place was taken at Pleasure Beach Centenary 641, which retained it's orange base coat from it's final days in service, however it had also been decorated with a popular display about Blackpool FC.   Twin Car 675+685, which still retained its Metro livery from its final days in service, was taken into the paint shop during the summer months and was repainted into 1970’s Green and Cream livery, ready to make it's heritage debut in September.

The final weekend in September was a time of celebration as the Blackpool Tramway reached another milestone: it's 130th Anniversary.   The weekend proved to be very popular with enthusiasts with events organised that  included organised depot tours of Rigby Road and Starr Gate depots, a shuttle tram between Rigby Road and Starr Gate Depot, an enhanced heritage service that would see every serviceable tramcar appear on the service over the 2 days, and would see heritage trams running to Cabin, Bispham, Little Bispham, Cleveleys,  Thornton Gate, Fleetwood and even to Starr Gate.  A free heirtage bus journey was provided along the previously closed town tramway routes.   On display at Rigby Road on both days were line ups of withdrawn and rarely seen trams that were positioned both on the depot fan and along the Fitting Shop wall.  

There was to be a 'Scruffy Surprise' running in service over the weekend, which turned out to be Balloon 723, which had been stripped of the the remains of it's all over advert vynals for the Sand's Venue, revealing the 1980's Green and Cream livery which had been carried prior to 2010.   723 certainly did look a bit scruffy as some of the paint had came off with the vynals, however it was good to see 723 back in service!   The highlight of the weekend, was the launch of Twin Car 675+685 back into service on the Saturday morning in 70's green and cream livery.   The tram spent the weekend on heritage duties and even made it's heritage debut on Illuminations tours on the Saturday Night.

Over the course of the anniversary weekend, there were 22 heritage trams used on the heritage service. The trams used over the 2 days were: 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.

In addition to the trams in service, there were also line ups some of the withdrawn and long stored trams.

On Saturday, the final 3 remaining Coronations of the once 25 strong fleet : 304(641), 660 and 663 were lined up on the depot fan with Jubillee 761, Illuminated Trawler 737 and Brush Car 632 lined up along the Fitting Shop Wall.  On the Sunday, Illuminated Trawler 737, Rocket 732 (which had been removed from Gynn Square and was back in store at Rigby Road Depot and Twin Car 676+686 (stored since 2004) were displayed on the depot fan, while Millennium Balloons 707 and 709 along with Refurbished Balloon 720 were on display at the Fitting Shop wall.  

At the end of the 2015 Illuminations, open topped Balloon 706 was withdrawn for service in need of a major overhaul and replacement of it's underframe.

2016

February 2016 saw the return of one of the first trams to depart prior to the mass exodus of trams from the traditional fleet between 2010 and 2012.   Brush Car 634 had originally departed the tramway in 2009, having been purchased for preservation and restoration by enthusiast Andy Ashton and his family.    634 had originally been 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 of the tram 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 was stored awaiting attention to it's wiring.   Five years and one repaint later, 634 is expected to finally make it's heritage debut during 2021.  

Twin Car Trailer 681 also found it's way back to Rigby Road during 2016 from outside storage at Fleetwood Docks.   Also arriving at Rigby Road depot was the lower deck from Lytham St Annes 43,   43, which is the only known surviving car from the Lytham tramway, which closed in 1937.   43 would have been a regular in Blackpool working on from Lytham or St Annes out to Gynn Square via Lytham Road.   The tracking down of 43 and it's future restoration is an exciting development for the heritage operation, not only from the point of view of having an additional open topped vintage car available in the summer but also from the point of view that it would provide one of the missing pieces in the jigsaw of the history of the tramways of the Fylde coast.

A welcome visitor to the tramway during 2016 was Marton 31.  Marton 31 is based at Beamish arrived at Blackpool by low loader in February 2016 on a year long loan with Standard 147 heading to Beamish on loan.   The arrival of Marton 31 was a boost to the heritage fleet as the popular open topper was not only a head turner but also compensated for the loss of open top balloon 706, which had been withdrawn the previous year in need of an overhaul.  

On 22nd March 2016 Norbreck North Tram stop opened between Norbreck and Little Bispham tram stops.   The original stop appeared to be little used and was closed on 6th November 2011, the final day before the upgrade.  A petition was raised by locals for it's reopening and work started during 2015 to build the platforms required for the Flexity trams and B Fleet trams to stop here if required. 

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 and becoming a regular on the heritage service. An additional double decker was required for Illuminations tours.   Having been refurbished in the 2000's and having heaters fitted meant that 718 was the perfect candidate for use.   In early July, 718 stripped of its Madam Tussaud’s advert livery to reveal its white base coat.   718 made it's heritage debut on a tour a few days before Tram Sunday, making it's first appearance in service since 2013.  718 proved to be an extremely useful addition especially during illuminations tours as the flat front offered a particularly good view from the front deck.

September saw a further pair of trams from the traditional fleet return to Rigby Road. Balloon 708 and Illuminated Hovercraft 735 had been on display in the tram shed at the North East Sea Land and Air Museum near Sunderland.  708 returned to Blackpool for storage, while the Hovertram 735 returned for a future restoration and return to service.

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, 21 trams were used on the Heritage service, these 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 on the Saturday was Coronation 304, Brush 631 and Twin Car Trailer 681 with Engineering tram 754 and 733+734 stabled along the fitting shop wall.   The Sunday saw Balloon 708, Millennium Balloon 709 and Illuminated Rocket 732 on display on the depot fan with Brush Cars 631 and 632 stabled along the fitting shop wall on the Sunday.


The anniversary weekend did not go entirely to plan due to an electrical fire on board twin car motor 272 at Gynn Square on Saturday, causing severe disruption and requiring the set to be towed in.   5 years on and the tram is still awaiting a rewire and has remained out of service.   On the Sunday, there was further disruption as  Boat 600 derailed near the exit from the Pleasure Beach loop.

Trawler 737 was launched back into service during October 2016, following a an internal and external refurbishment.   The main work done to the interior involved the retrimming of the seating in the passenger saloons with the more traditional green with swirls moquette replaceing the more modern late 90's / early 00's ‘explosion in a paint factory’ moquette.   The biggest change, however was Externally as the tram was fitted with thousands of LED bulbs and was fitted with 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, the tram looks spectacular at night.

The incident with 272+T2 at the Anniversary Weekend led to checks being made to the wiring of other trams in the fleet and led to Twin Car 675+685 and Boats 227 (602) and 230 (604) being withdrawn from service pending a full rewire.

On 3rd December 2016, another future restoration arrived at Rigby Road in the form of Glasgow 1016.   1016 had been under restoration by the Scottish International Tramway Association at the Bridgeton Bus Museum in Glasgow, however they offered to the Blackpool Heritage Tram Trust to restore back its original form as an open top double deck.   Following hot on the heels of 1016 on 8th December was a surprise returnee in the form of Brush Car 621.  621 had left Blackpool in 2011 initially to Kirkham Prison for storage.   However in 2014, 621 was sold to Beamish and was stored in their depot awaiting restoration.   The original plan for 621 at Beamish, was for a restoration back to original 1937 condition to fit in with the museum's collection, however a lack of space at the depot saw the tram being offered back to Blackpool.   With 621’s historic value as first Brush Car built and the forthcoming 80th Anniversary of the Brush Car coming up in 2017, Blackpool gratefully accepted it!   In addition to 621, Balloon 703, which had been a runner at Beamish until it was withdrawn in need of a new axle was also offered back to Blackpool from Beamish.    A crowdfunding operation was launched and the £1000 transport cost to bring 703 home was raised in less than 24 hours.

2017

With the money having been raised to return Balloon 703 to Blackpool by lowloader, 703 was returned to Rigby Road in March 2017.     In Spring 2017, another of the traditional fleet returned to Rigby Road in the form of Jubilee 761.   761 last operated in service on the final day of the traditional system in 2011 and had been bought by the Friends of Fleetwood and was in outdoor storage.  The unique tram returned to Rigby Road and Blackpool Heritage Tram Trust ownership and should, in the future, return to heritage service and represent a class of tram currently missing from the prom and also show another part of the story of the development of both the Balloon fleet and the One Person Operated fleet.  

Having been used in heritage service in an all over white base coat during 2016, Millenium Balloon 718 was admitted to the paint shop early in 2017 and was repainted into the Millennium Green and Cream livery, which was carried by 707 and 709 on re-entry to service after the completion of their overhauls in 1998 and 2000 respectively. 718 never actually carried this livery first time around as it re-entered service in an all over advert for City Sightseeing.

July 2017 was a busy month with three arrivals: First to arrive was the popular Wartime liveried Brush Car 623 on loan from Heaton Park.  623 returned to Blackpool on a year long loan in connection with the celebration of the 80th Anniversary of the Brush Cars entering service, with the main event being held in September.   Before it entered service, 623 required an extension to be fitted to the mini tower that it had accquired at Heaton Park to allow for a pantograph to be fitted.  Brush Car 623 made it's heritage debut on 14th July 2017 and was one of the trams that found use on the heritage service to and from the Fleetwood Tram Sunday the following day.

Open topped double decker Birkenhead 20 (built in 1900 by GF Milnes) arrived on a year long loan and had been expected to fill a gap in the fleet  as there was (and are) currently no other open top double deckers available for service with Balloon 706 currently withdrawn awaiting overhaul, unfortunately, however Birkehead 20 remained out of service for much of it's time in Blackpool, only finding use a few weeks before it's return to Birkenhead.  

Another future candidate for overhaul in the form of Centenary 645 also returned to Rigby Road in July 2017.   645 had been declared surplus by its owners at the Windy Harbour Holiday Park and represented the final variation of the late 1990's to mid 2000's overhaul of the class.  645 was the 7th of the 8 Centenary trams to be overhauled, however the 8th tram, 648, was treated to a more sympathetic heritage style overhaul.  

Another visiting tram arrived in September 2017, this time it was Brush Car 630.   630, which was in the 1990's livery that it first received following it's overhaul in 1996 arrived the week before the 2017 Anniversary weekend that the Brush Cars would feature quite heavily in.  

Over the course of 2017, Brush Car 621 was being prepared for a return to service.   The amount of work put in to return 621 to service was the most that had been carried out to any tramcar at that time in the heritage era.  621 would require a full exterior re-panel and repaint before it could be returned to service.   The work was completed on the day of the planned relaunch (the Friday of the September Anniversary Weekend) with 621, which had been repainted into a version of the 1930's livery, looking every bit the star of the show!

A bonus first event of the 2017 anniversary weekend began at lunchtime on Friday 22nd September, with Brush Car 621, making it's heritage debut and first journey since 2004, followed by 623, 630 and 631 leaving depot and operating on a 4 car Pleasure Beach - Cleveleys Flyer service at a 20 minute interval until 5pm.   The Brush Cars were regulars on the Cleveleys flyers throughout the 1990's right up to the end of the traditional system.

The main event of course was the now traditional use of every heritage tram in service over the course of the weekend with 19 trams seeing use over the weekend.   Trams used were: 40, 66, 600, 621, 623, 630, 631, 648, 680, 700, 711, 713, 715, 717, 718, 723, 733+734, 736 and 737.

The lineup of trams on display over the weekend  featured Balloon 701 and Centenaries 642 and 645 being displayed along the fitting shop wall on the Saturday, with Brush Cars 632, 634, 627 and 631 on the depot fan.   On the Sunday Brush Cars 634, 627 and 632 were on display along the fitting

shop wall and Brush Car 625, Engineering tram 754, Open topped Balloon 706 and Balloon 726 were displayed on the depot fan.   Inside the depot, Boat 230 and Railcoach 679 were on display in the electrical compound, Standard 147 was on display in the Paint Shop, Boat 227, Standard 143, Lytham 43 and Glasgow 1016 were on display in the Body Shop and Balloons 719 and 703 in the Fitting shop.

Work commenced on the building of the extension of the tramway from North Pier up Talbot Road to North Station during November 2017.    The work was expected to be completed by Easter 2020, however delays to the demoltion of the former Wilko Store at the corner of Dickson Road, which is to be the site of the new Tramstop for North Station means that it is now likely to be 2022 before completion and opening.

With the work commencing on the extension, there was two new trams delivered in 2017, however for a change it wasn't heritage trams being delivered to Rigby Road, it was two brand new Flexity trams for Starr Gate.   Flexity 017 was delivered to Starr Gate depot on 1st December 2017 with Flexity 018 being delivered on 15th December.   Despite being identical to the rest of the Flexity fleet, testing and commissioning would be carried out on both trams before they were accepted into service.

2018

In February 2018 during a depot shunt, Centenary 642, which had been out of service since 2016 was seen stabled on the depot fan during a shunt move sporting either an overhauled or repainted set of trucks.   642 had received parts recovered from sister car 641, which was on display at Pleasure Beach at the time.   These parts would later revive 642 to allow it to return to service.   641, meanwhile had been repainted into a mural for local Blackpool charity, 'Horizon' in 2017 and would be removed from display at Pleasure Beach later in 2018 and returned to open storage at Fleetwood Docks.

With testing and commissioning completed, Flexities 017 and 018 entered service on Sunday 4th March 2018.   Since then, they have seen regular use on the Starr Gate - Fleetwood service.  

There was a welcome return to service Standard 147 re-entered service over Easter 2018, with the popular heritage tram  having received a much needed exterior repaint and interior re varnish over the previous few

 months.  

Chaos ensued on Friday 6th July as Boat 600 dewired on the loop at Pleasure Beach.   While the dewiring was not a major incident it's self, the tramway had to close south of Foxhall for almost 2 hours while 600's trolley wheel was reattached and the damaged overheads repaired.  With the track layout having been rationalised so much during the late 2000's, Foxhall was the closest crossover to Pleasure Beach that could be used.

Having spent a bit of time in the workshops under repair, the opportunity was also taken to repaint the rather shabby and faded paintwork carried by Centenary 642.   Rather than receiving a complete coat of Green and Cream, 642 was to receive 90's green and cream liveried ends, whilst the body sides were repainted yellow with an advert for the Heritage Tram Tours Travel Card being added.  This was a modern recreation of the same advert that the tram carried in 1995.   Despite the tram having undergone a refurbishment that changed the look of the front ends, the advert still suits the tram and adds a splash of colour when the tram is out on the prom and represents a period when many trams were outshopped in all over adverts.   642 returned to service on 19th August 2018.

Two further trams would receive all over adverts during September 2018, with Flexities 003 and 016 receiving pink adverts for Prettylittlething.com

The usual September Anniversary Weekend took place on 22nd and 23rd September and featured 21 heritage trams in service during the weekend, these were: 40, 66, 147, 600, 621, 631, 642, 648, 680, 700, 701, 711, 713, 715, 717, 718, 719, 723 and 733+734, 736 and 737.

The usual display of stored and withdrawn trams were also seen: On display against the fitting shop wall on the Saturday were: Brush Car 634, Balloon 703 and Balloon 706 and on the depot fan was Jubilee 761, Halle 902 and Engineering tram 754. On the Sunday, Brush Car 634, OMO 8 and Balloon 706 were displayed against the fitting shop wall with Jubilee 761, Coronation 304 and Brush Car 631 displayed on the depot fan. Meanwhile in the various workshops were: Balloon 703, Brush Car 634, Boat 230 and Twin Car 675+685 in the Electrical Compound, Standard 143 was in the fitting shop, Birkenhead 20 in the body shop along with the shells of Lytham 43 and Glasgow 1016 and in the Paint Shop was Boat 227.   Boat 227 was in the final stages of a repaint and varnish of it's interior and exterior and would be relaunched during October 2018 and named after Charie Caroli the famous clown at the Tower Circus.

2019

During the early months of 2019, Balloon 715 was a visitor to the paint shop at Rigby Road.   The popular unrefurbished Balloon had it's 1990's livery changed to 70's livery (not too much change was required as the liveries are quite similar.)   The tram also had it's Tram Sunday adverts removed and replaced with period style adverts for CIS insurance and Blackpool Zoo.  

Blackpool and Fleetwood 40 also departed the tramway, returning to Crich following the end of it's loan period.   Rigby Road depot were kept busy with the recommisioning of Millennium Balloon 707 after 6 years out of service and a repaint into Millennium Green and Cream livery. Work also continued on FTT owned Standard 143 to prepare the tram for it's long awaited relaunch on the Monday prior to the September Anniversary weekend.  

Monday 23rd September came along and 143 was launched back into service and subsequently failed with a motor issue.   Unfortunately this ruled out the tram being used in service over the Anniversary weekend and indeed the rest of the year with the faulty motor having to be sent away for specialist repairs.

143 was supposed to have operated a tour on Friday 27th September, however as the tram was unavailable, Bolton 66 stepped in and developed a hot axle box, meaning the tram had to be left at Fleetwood Ferry.  The tour participants had to hitch a ride back into Blackpool on board Flexity 014 as far as Manchester Square, where the participants left the tram and walked to Rigby Road depot to meet the hastily scrambled Centenary 648, in which they completed the tour.

The weekend weather played a part in the number of visitors and the number of trams that were out with torrential rain on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning limiting the output of trams, while by contrast the Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon had wall to wall sunshine and blue skies!   19 trams were used over the weekend, including: 66, 147, 227, 600, 621, 631, 648, 680, 701, 711, 713, 715, 717, 718, 719, 723, 733+734, 736 and 737.   Standard 143 spent the weekend on display at North Pier, whilst the trams that were next in the pecking order for rewiring before entering service: Twin Car 675+685, Boat 230 and Brush Car 634 were displayed along the Fitting Shop Wall and Centenary 645, OMO 8 and Jubilee 761 were displayed on the depot fan on the Saturday with Balloon 704 and Open topped Balloon 706 on display against the fitting shop wall and Twin Cars 272+T2, 675+685, 676+686 and Twin Car Motor 671 being displayed on the depot fan on the Sunday.    The weather had improved so much on the Sunday night that Boats 600 and 227 were used on Illuminations tours!  Other than Standard 143 not being able to run over the weekend, the only other let down of the weekend was that Millennium Balloon 707, which had been expected to make it's return to service, did not appear.

It was announced that major overhauls were planned for Balloons 704 and 706 and would commence in Autumn 2019, 704's, which is privately owned required a full strip down, rewire and replacement underframe as did Balloon 706.   Work began in October 2019 to strip 704 to a shell for it's overhaul, from which it should re-emerge in the 1950's style. Work is also well underway in fabricating a new underframe.   Work has still to commence on Balloon 706.

Following the illuminations, work also began on repaints and upgrades to the lighting on both the Western Train (733+734) and the Frigate (736).

2020

Work continued on the work to the Illuminated trams in early 2020.  Heading into February and the planned Gold Weekend had to be cancelled due to a named storm battering the West Coast of the UK.   The March Gold weekend saw the long awaited return to service of Millennium Balloon 707.   Like the rest of the country and indeed the world, everything stopped.   With the introduction of the first Lockdown on 23rd March, the heritage trams were confined to depot and maintenance stopped as the heritage paid staff were on furlough and only a few weeks later, the Flexity fleet were taken out of service as well.   This continued until mid July, when the flexity fleet were brought back into service and gradually an increased service was brought in until it was back to normal in August.  The Heritage fleet were brought back into use during the August Bank Holiday in time for the start of an extended illuminations season.   With work delayed due to the Heritage staff being on Furlough, the Balloon trams were used on the Illuminations tours until 736 was completed and joined them.    Another 3 week lockdown occured in late October / November and the heritage trams were once again confined to depot, however they returned to service and ran up until Christmas when the introduction of a further lockdown curtailed the illuminations period.

Despite the lockdowns, work progressed at a dramatic pace on Ex-Towing Railcoach 679's restoration back to Series 2 Railcoach 279 at the FTT workshops with the new cab ends almost completed and much of the tram repannelled.

2021

With the National Lockdown continuing into 2021, the heritage fleet are still confined to depot, with no date set for their return to service.   Unlike the first lockdown, the flexity fleet have remained in service.  

Despite the doom and gloom, there has been some positive news for the heritage fleet with a return to service expected from at least two trams, which haven't run for many years.   Brush Car 634 is currently in the paint shop being repainted into a version of the 'Terror Train' livery that the tram carried in the late 1990's and not only add variety to the heritage fleet, but will also be making it's heritage debut and will also be running for the first time since 2004.  Coronation 304 is also expected to make a return to service after a few years in store, having been repaired.