Sunday, 5 July 2015


 Flexity near Manchester Square south of the Tower

Revisiting several urban rail systems in England's North West in preparation for my forthcoming 'Tram Atlas Britain & Ireland' I returned to Blackpool on Saturday, 4 July 2015, approximately 10 years after my first visit. This popular seaside resort hasn't changed much, but its tram line has completely.
For many decades, this coastal line had been operating exclusively with heritage tram cars, though offering a service not only designed for visitors, but also for the locals. A few years ago, they decided to upgrade the line and create a modern tram line as part of an urban transport system, and make the heritage service a separate business.

Two Flexitys at the southern terminus Starr Gate

The result of the line that reopened in 2012 is quite nice, and on this mostly sunny summer Saturday it was quite busy. When it gets quite busy, I wonder whether the onboard conductors are the most efficient way to sell tickets. It is certainly nice, especially for visitors, to buy a ticket from a person rather than a machine, but when the trams get very crowded, it is difficult for the conductors to keep control. The whole procedure reminded me of those female conductors I saw on Russian trams. There are mostly two conductors, so each one has one half of the vehicle to check, and in fact on each of my numerous boardings, except one, they came up and checked my day pass, which I bought from the first conductor I met: a paper ticket for 4.50 GBP which would also allow me to use the city buses. This shabby paper ticket shows a huge logo, when for the frequent ticket checks it would be more helpful to have the day of validity printed in large letters instead! Anyway, quite a good deal for people like us. For single rides they have fares according to distance, and since the line has been upgraded the stops are clearly visible and named, although the company still doesn't have a real map on their website, just a list of names (and for many years with an error: Bispham Sandhurst Avenue are two different stops!). So, while this fare integration with the bus service is very welcomed, I cannot understand why bus #1 serves exactly the same route as the tram? Is it for those locals who do not want to mix with the tourists? Is it because they don't trust the reliability of the trams (I have read that there have been problems...). Is the bus faster?

Flexity at the northern terminus Fleetwood Ferry

During upgrading all the stops were equipped with proper platforms and shelters, there is also an information board including timetables etc. Unfortunately those old shelters have disappeared. But what is surely missing for a state-of-the-art tramway are the electronic next-tram indicators. Especially along the section between North Pier and South Pier, many people hop on the tram for a relatively short ride, and in this case, a real-time indicator would be useful, because often people will rather walk instead of waiting too long, particularly when there is a delay. Normally, the trams run every 10 minutes.

Tram leaving the loop at the northern terminus Fleetwood Ferry

Fenced-off section between Little Bispham and Anchorsholme Lane

The ride as such is rather slow, mostly due to the fact that the trams run along the Promenade and people cross the tracks anywhere, but even on the northern, partly even fenced-off section, the trams are not too fast. On the paved Promenade section with grooved rails, the wheels can be rather loud. Luckily, the line doesn't have any significant curves, just the one south of the Anchorsholme Lane stop seemed a bit tight and noisy. The only street-running section at the northern end in Fleetwood is passed at reasonable speed.

Flexity - spacious interior, 2.65 m wide

I congratulate Blackpool for their decision to go for 2.65 m wide Flexity trams, they are much more comfortable than the typical 2.40 m wide trams mostly found on new tram systems, too. The seats are quite pleasant for my back. Inside the have visual and accoustic next-stop and destination announcements, a line panel is also mounted above the doors. The trams have no air-conditioning, but that is not really necessary as even on a very sunny day you get quite a breeze from the sea to keep you cool.

Open "boat car"

While I appreciate the modern tram service, those coming to Blackpool for the heritage trams will be very disappointed. Last Saturday, only two old trams were running! One 'boat' and one ex-Bolton double-decker, so not much to take pictures of. In 2005 I got to see more than 10 different ones. Now they operate them only in excursion mode doing round-trips between North Pier and Pleasure Beach. [Edit: So if you want to see more, be sure you check the annual schedule to know which days have more vehicles in service!]
    My proposal would be to add more of the old trams between Bispham or Little Bispham and Pleasure Beach to reinforce the modern trams on busy days, and to offer a normal day pass and a day pass+ which includes heritage trams too, or charge an extra pound for each boarding, so that people will use them again as a normal means of transport not like the many horse carriages you can also see along the Promenade, while at the same time visitors will enjoy simply looking at the variety of different cars Blackpool has to offer and which makes the town unique not only in Britain. It could be Europe's San Francisco once again!

ex-Bolton car #66 (1901)



  1. Before the upgrade the heritage tramway was much slower than today, not least because it had about twice as many stops. Bus route 1 was much faster and was the principal mode of transport between Fleetwood and Blackpool. It has been retained after the upgrade as British citizens above the age of 60 enjoy free bus travel, and Blackpool council (for whatever reason) preferred to keep the bus rather than extend this facility to trams.

    The only reason there is fare integration between buses and trams is that they are owned by the same municipal company. In places like Sheffield, for example, tram conductors do not sell any type of ticket valid for First buses - universally accepted season tickets are only sold by Travel South Yorkshire.

    When the tram upgrade went ahead, it was decided that due to the heritage trams being slower than the modern ones the heritage service had to be limited in frequency so as not to hinder the regular service.

  2. Its worth noting the Blackpool Heritage Tram Tour operation very much in its infancy. 2015 marked a massive increase in number of operating days. With Volunteers from within and now outside the company working tirelessly to develop operation. Your visit was on a Blue Timetable Heritage day which is effectively a two car promenade service. During Bank Holidays & Special Events (Tram Sunday / Totally Transport / 130th Birthday this September) chance to ride more cars 6+ across more of the system. The £10 Unlimited Heritage / BTS Bus & LRT use ensures all of the ticket price goes into the heritage pot. These can be purchased on any heritage day. The Light Tours operate every night of the illuminations as well and these are included as part of the £10 ticket. Range of ticket prices as well for those looking to just sample offering (from£3) Was established very quickly that heritage trams do not hold up the core service. The legal restrictions on the number of heritage stops means than invariably other way round !!. The Fleetwood Festival Transport (Tram Sunday) is the next enhanced weekend. 4 Cars out on Saturday. Up to 10 out (some static 6 running at any one time) on the Sunday.

  3. Your knowledge of the Blackpool tram system is clearly not up to much, particularly in terms of the heritage operation as many of your proposals have in fact already happened! The two car heritage service which ran on the day of your visit is a most basic provision and on many days as many as 6 heritage cars run with most journeys operating to Bispham or further, and advertised workings to Fleetwood for an all-inclusive price which also covers unlimited travel on the LRT trams and buses. There are also a fleet of modified double deck 'Balloon' cars which are permitted to operate on normal stage carriage work as opposed to tours due to the centre entrance area having been widened so there is no gap between the tram and the loading platforms. We must also note that to preserve and maintain a fleet of trams which are mostly over 80 years old is expensive, so providing some nice old trams for holidaymakers to take pictures of is not really something that Blackpool Transport and the recently formed heritage trust can afford to consider!

    It is generally accepted that conductors on trams is the only way for Blackpool, largely because so many tourists use the system and have little idea of where they are, so conductors effectively become a sort of Tourist Information service as well as taking fares. You have made some very valid points about the tramway - I agree about real time information at stops and I suspect this is something that the new Manager will look into - but to visit for one day and try to assess the whole operation is impossible.

    1. I'm aware, and most readers will be too, that a one day visit can just give momentary impressions, but that's what they are and what stays. So, despite your efforts to explain that the heritage service is actually much better on SOME days, it will still be rather disappointing for many visitors who come on any other day during the year, and if only the minimum service is provided on a weekend during high season and with splendid weather, then it simply is disappointing. I guess only the very enthusiastic will be able to plan their holiday exactly around the special days when more heritage trams will be on the line. I especially missed the modified Balloons as I would have expected at least one in service if they bothered to convert several of them. But if you think that 'providing some nice old trams for holidaymakers to take pictures of' is not a good reason by itself, then that's a sad approach to attracting visitors to Blackpool. The roller coasters and noisy pubs are certainly not really that attractive....

    2. If you come in 2013. 2014 on the 9th July would have seen absolutely no heritage trams. Think your snap shot view of the tramway failed to recognise the enormous progress made with the heritage operation. And as such upset people who have supported operation. Last year was only 15 Day time operating days & Lights Tours. 2015 seen 115+ Day time Operating days + they expanding number of trams on Lights Tours as well.

  4. Whilst i wish you well in your publishing exploits id hope that whilst on your visits you look to study the topic and understand the tramways position along side the momentary observations. Particularly when you want to make suggestions. One example is of course the Real Time Passenger Information Boards you suggest. These were of course included in the original specification for the upgrade but had to be delayed and will be added at a later phase of the development of the tramway (scheduled to be around the time of the North Station Interchange extension). The heritage other people alongside myself have covered some glaring omissions. The development of the long term aspiration of a indoor visitor attraction will certainly help visitors unable to visit on peak operating days.. And as the number of volunteers increase am sure will see increased output. The vast majority however are very very grateful they to be able to ride two heritage cars on every weekend and school holiday thanks mainly to volunteers. During Light Tours Saturday 5th September to Sunday 8th November will also have Illuminated & Heritage tours performing enhanced Lights service from Pleasure Beach all the way to Little Bispham and back. So on weekend during Lights will be able to for example ride the day time timetable (2) and the evening lights tours (often 4+) using the popular ulimited bus tram lrt ticket that costs £10.

    To conclude plenty of opportunities and the number of opportunities growing to ride heritage trams at Blackpool. The Tramway is developing with extensions and infrastructure upgrades such as passenger display boards very much on the agenda.

    1. Chris, I didn't mean to upset anyone, least those who volunteer and dedicate their free time to this. I was actually assuming, wrongly, that those who operate the heritage trams do that as part of their job. But the feeling of disappointment would still be the same, maybe now it is a bit less knowing that last year I would have been completely frustrated. Just as I felt a bit frustrated on Tuesday in Birkenhead as I happened to be there just on a day when the trams don't run, but today I was lucky and enjoyed a nice ride on the Great Orme Tramway with splendid weather. Anyway, I wish everybody working for the Blackpool heritage trams good luck in their efforts to expand the service for their own delightment and that of your visitors.

  5. By Alan Robinson;-

    Thank you again for a good article. The apparent illogicality in providing a competing parallel
    bus service (and by the same operator) is another example of the perverse effects of lack
    of "joined up thinking" with regard to public transport. However, it's not Blackpool Borough
    council's fault. In the UK, senior citizens (over 60) are entitled to totally free bus travel
    after 09.30 NATIONWIDE (but by devolved UK nations, English senior citizens have free
    travel only in England, Scottish seniors in Scotland only (Wales and Northern Ireland
    Blackpool attracts a huge number of senior visitors, and many stay in holiday property
    in the area between Blackpool and Fleetwod.
    IN THE UK : TRAMS ARE EXCLUDED ! (seniors can not use their concessionary
    passes as of right). There is only one exception, Sheffield, which is a "special arrangement"
    but NOT funded by central government.
    Funding is by central government, in the form of a nominal flat fare PAYABLE TO THE OPERATOR for each senior bus passenger conveyed. This central government fare has been
    cut and is now unrealistically low, about £0.65 I believe, way below average unit cost.
    For a short time , Blackpool did permit seniors to travel, but could not afford to continue
    to provide this facility.
    Therefore: Buses need to be maintained to provide for the demand for senior travel in
    holiday areas.
    The arithmetic is something like this:-
    Free travel on trams for seniors (say) 1 million pa, revenue ZERO.
    Provide buses, 1 million seniors pa , revenue (to Blackpool borough transport) £650k.

    There is a futher issue. Blackpool senior RESIDENTS do get free travel on trams
    (separate local scheme) nut ONLY WITHIN BLACKPOOL BOROUGH.
    The Fleetwood rote crosses the border into LANCASHIRE, where the Blackpool senior
    passes are not accepted, therefore , another reason to provide duplicating buses.

    There is great dismay over this. The new trams, with their capacity and level boarding
    are far superior to buses for senior citizen travel.

    It seems that the UK government was determined that this concession was to apply
    for BUSES ONLY (as a matter of principle) and therefore not applicable to rail systems.
    For this purpose, a Tram is a Train.


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