President David Shepherd CBE FRSA FGRA
On the Blackpool Trams
Back in 1993 I went to Warton in the Blackpool area on business, while there I took the opportunity to ride the full length of the Starr Gate-Blackpool-Fleetwood tram system.
I boarded a single deck car at the Starr Gate terminus. There were several minutes to wait and I glanced at the controls, and commented to the driver that they were very different from the conventional ones I had expected. She explained that this was one of the first cars to be fitted with a Brush electronic control system, with most of the work being done by a single Drive-Neutral-Brake lever, and sundry switches for everything else. The good lady proved to be exceptionally garrulous, and except when taking fares she talked non-stop for the entire one hour journey to Fleetwood. A few snippets from this torrent of words are worth passing on. The one-lever control is good for simplicity of operation, but has one snag. The electronics will not allow you engage reverse drive and brake simultaneously! This technique, which is officially taboo and very bad for the standard controllers, has been known, in extremis, to avoid accidents with a panic stop.
One day my new-found friend was walking to work at 0520. (yes; that is her starting time) when she saw her tram already standing on the sea-front main line, with a few agitated depot staff around it. It seemed that the tram, with nobody aboard, had left the depot, run 150 yards to the seafront, crossed the main road and joined the main line. It had been pursued, but could only be stopped by cutting of the supply to the overhead. One explanation was that the man who prepared the trains for the road had left the control lever slightly in “Drive” instead of “Neutral”, he certainly had failed to switch off the brake compressor and so the pressure would be restored when he left the tram and the brakes would be released. My driver demonstrated that the Neutral position was very positive, and she believed that some passer-by had set the tram off as it stood, open and unattended, outside the depot. One result of this incident is that dead-mens’ handles, or, foot pedals, are to be fitted to Blackpool trains for the first time.
Like any other vehicles trains become involved in accidents and near accidents. My driver had been about to pull away from a stop one day when she heard a voice exclaim “My God!”. She slammed on the brake she had just released and looked round. There were no passengers in the tram, and nobody visible outside. She opened the doors to investigate - and found an elderly woman lying with her legs under the car, a foot or so in front of the rear bogie. The woman’s companion, who had called out, was trying to rescue her, she had been very lucky not to lose both feet. The woman had been trying to walk on the wrong side of a protective barrier and had slipped. My driver, herself near to retirement, complained that “a few old folk on their cheap autumn holidays cause more havoc than all the summer visitors!”.
Still on the subject of accidents, the Fylde District Council tries to make the tram/free vehicle confrontation safer by altering traffic lanes and street signs. This works perfectly with visitors, who obey the road markings and signs, but the locals carry on as if nothing had changed! Several examples were pointed out to me, including a taxi stopped where it blocked the tram tracks while it indicated right in. clear contravention of the lane markings which segregated the trams and cars, and of the signs which prohibited a right turn. “The taxis are the worst!” I was told.
The track is far from perfect. One abrupt kink in the line, which caused a nasty lurch as we passed over it, has been there for the entire 30 years this lady has been driving. In another spot she pointed ahead and asked if I could see the bad section - it was about 100 yards away and you could see the rails distorted in all planes. “You’ll feel that when I hit it!” she exclaimed and accelerated hard to emphasise the point! The tram leapt and lurched in a terrifying manner, but we just stayed on the track.
The driver was still talking when we reached the Fleetwood terminus, describing a splendid restoration job done on an old double-decker. It was due out as an extra at the peak school time, and she advised me to get to the appropriate stop and have a ride. She was so keen an me trying this tram that she offered to take me back down the line to the correct spot free of charge!. We met the double decker a little way north of the school stop, and it reversed over a cross-over to follow us closely. I duly changed cars, to the amazement of the crew on the double-decker, who thought I was mad to travel with the screaming hoard. I explained my reasons, and they were now convinced of my insanity. (This car had a driver and two conductors to cope with the rush of children, instead of the usual single driver/conductor.)
The car was very smartly turned out, and had innovations such as anti-graffiti finishes and impressively large head and tail lights, and even flashing indicators. The end bumpers had been made sloping, to stop kids clinging on for free rides! The controls were the -original English Electric set. The crew agreed it was smart, but they still thought it could be improved.
Boost to Blackpool Trams 2009
The Blackpool to Fleetwood tramway is to get a £101.67m upgrade
The scheme, which has now been granted full government approval, will include new trams, replacement track, extra stops and a new depot. This investment, £68.3m from the Department for Transport and £33.4m from Blackpool Council and Lancashire County Council, forms part of the regeneration of the area and hopes to convince more residents to use public transport.
In his first visit since becoming transport minister this week, Mr Khan said: "This scheme will deliver significant benefits for the local community, and I am delighted that one of my first tasks as Transport Minister is to give it the go ahead.
"Trams have been running in Blackpool for more than 100 years - I hope this funding will mean the historic, world famous Tramway can continue to run well into the future."
The Tramway, which is owned by Blackpool Council, has been operating since 1885, and runs from the town along the Fylde Coast into Lancashire, serving Cleveleys and Fleetwood. Work is due to start in June 2009 and be completed in April 2012.