Monday, 24 October 2011

Blackpool’s Tramway Heritage at Risk

The largest collection of vintage trams outside of the National Tramway Museum in Derbyshire is at risk – and it is based here in Blackpool.

Ever since 1984, the Lancastrian Transport Trust has been collecting significant examples of Blackpool’s unique transport heritage and further examples have been added more recently as the tram fleet is thinned out ready for the new Supertrams to take over. In fairness Blackpool Transport, prompted by the Council to clear redundant trams from the Rigby Road depot, gave us notice 18-months ago that we would need to remove the vehicles. We have found homes for a couple of them in museums around the country – but this means that our priceless collection is being dispersed. We began talks with Council officers as soon as Blackpool Transport gave notice but now, with less than four weeks to go the collection risks being homeless. For the past 18-months we were just passed around from one officer to another.

The Trust has not been short of ideas. Dating back to 2002, the organisation has been submitting plans to Blackpool Council for a tramway visitor centre with proposals based at Starr Gate, Blundell Street and Thornton Gate, but none of them have been taken forward by the Council. We are also concerned at the official information about the tram fleet being retained on the tramway – 24 trams are being kept but 10 of these are substantially rebuilt double deck trams, plastered in advertising and rebuilt out of all recognition of their iconic heritage status, some are illuminated trams and very few represent the genuine article – unlike our own Blackpool collection.
Blackpool Council has, this week, offered to assist with locating an alternative site but the common sense, no cost answer of keeping them in the part of the tram depot that will soon become empty has already been rejected by Blackpool Transport and the Council.
History has a habit of repeating itself. Back in the 1960s when the last major tramway upheaval took place, many tramcar types either disappeared or were sent off to museums around the country, depriving Blackpool of a significant chunk of its tramway history. As the country’s first electric tramway, surely our unique collection deserves to be retained intact and in Blackpool?

For more information, visit or contact Paul Turner by email at

Is the LTT Collection of significance?

Yes. It is the second largest collection of preserved heritage tramcars in the UK after the National Tramway Museum.

Isn't Blackpool Keeping 30 Heritage Trams?

The retained Blackpool Trams comprise:
  • 10 Double Deck cars heavily rebuilt with modernised interiors and widened centre platforms. They are similar in appearance inside to buses from the early 2000s and even the one example which retained heritage features has lost many of them in the last year.
  • 3 Illuminated Feature Cars - two of which were rebuilt from older cars in 2001 and 2004 and have no heritage feel or credentials
  • 1 Works car
  • 5 reserve cars - two open boats, two modernised double deckers and one modernised single decker
  • Five Vintage Cars - Standard 147, Boat 600, Coronation 660 open top Balloon 706 and Balloon 717
  • In addition the National Tramway Museums Fleetwood car 40 is retained on loan.
There are therefore six trams, plus the Western Train that have relevant tramway heritage, although these examples have generally been modified for regular operation on the tramway. The LTT has preserved tramcar types not being retained by Blackpool Transport, that will otherwise be lost – but we also have examples in more original condition.

Can ‘Museum’ Trams operate on the refurbished tramway?

Yes. The operation of the LTT’s Railcoach 632 and Balloon car 715 during 2011 has proven that these cars can work with the increased voltage - and our other cars will likewise. Vehicles would need to be fitted with transponders and minor modifications to lights may be required too. Similar modifications will be required to the retained cars in the Blackpool fleet - and the NTM's Fleetwood Box 40 - so this is not an issue.

Is there a commercial case for Heritage Tram Operation?

Yes, but such an operation needs to generate new revenue and not simply abstract passengers from the main tram service. We believe there is a viable demand for tourism related travel products such as sightseeing Tourist Trams, Wedding Guest transport to the new Wedding Chapel, themed Illuminations Tours, for example. These require above average management time to capture the business and market the products which does not fit with the business model of conventional public transport operators such as Blackpool Transport. Similar successful examples across Europe are generally managed independently.

Is there a Precedent for Museum and Tourist Car Operation on a modern tramway

Yes, many examples occur across Europe including regular operations in Brussels, Vienna, Berlin, Dusseldorf, Lisbon, Zurich and others. There are also examples of museum facilities sharing depot accommodation with the tramway operator, with the best known examples being in Brussels and Lisbon.

Has the LTT presented its ideas?

Yes, we first submitted ideas to Blackpool Council back in 2002 for a Visitor Centre on the former Blundell Street depot site to be incorporated within the regeneration proposals. More recently, back in December 2010, we drafted a report to Blackpool Transport proposing partnership working to retain vintage tram operation on the upgraded tramway. The Blackpool Tramway is one of the resort’s key stories and we believe that the opportunity exists to develop a great “Blackpool Tramway Experience” visitor attraction.