Much-loved fleet set to ride again
Blackpool's trams are as much a part of the town's heritage as the Tower.
That is the view of Bryan Lindop as he and his team at Blackpool Transport prepare for a fourth season of running the heritage service.
Back in 2012 when the £100m new tramway was unveiled with its fleet of shiny state-of-the-art Flexity trams, it seemed the writing was on the wall for the old bone-shakers dating back to the 1930s.
That is until Bryan stepped in – determined to preserve this piece of history.
This year 22 of the old trams will ply their trade on the seafront, more are in the workshops at Rigby Road being restored and plans for a tram museum on the site are moving forward.
The 2016 heritage service officially launches today, with Easter Sunday seeing the introduction of a Marton Box Car tram, on loan from the North East’s Beamish Museum.
It is a remarkable turnaround, and one which the public clearly supports because the heritage service is now covering all its own engineering and operational costs.
Nothing would be possible without the huge support of tram enthusiasts both locally and from around the country.
Bank managers, IT experts and train drivers willingly spend their weekends as volunteer drivers alongside the paid staff, and trained to a high standard.
Bryan, who is now the full-time manager of the heritage fleet, said: “It is a dream come true for the volunteers to be able to drive a Blackpool tram, and the revenue they bring in helps us keep the engineering workshop going.
“After the new trams came in, I think I was the last one standing who understood the old trams.
“No-one else knew what to do with them. People think I am an enthusiast, but I’m not. I just recognise the importance of the trams to Blackpool.
“Losing them would have been just as bad as someone coming along and taking the Tower down.”
Bryan’s fervour is catching though, with the likes of the Lofthouse family of Fleetwood’s Fisherman’s Friend among those who have donated substantial funds towards restoration.
Their contribution is going towards refurbishing the Illuminated Trawler which after a couple of years out of service will be back as part of this year’s Illuminations.
It will boast twice the number of lights on it as before - 12,500 energy-efficient LEDs using the same lighting system as the Tower.
Bryan said: “We wanted something that would have a real wow factor. I want it to be the star of the show and I think it will be the brightest thing on the planet when it is finished!”
Members of the Fylde Tram Society are busy raising the final £6,605 needed for the project which is also being carried out in partnership with Blackpool Illuminations.
Other projects currently on the go include the repainting of a 1935 balloon tram in classic green and cream, while the restoration of a Blackpool Standard tram will start in April and last 12 months.
All these schemes are also key steps toward the eventual dream of a tram museum on the Rigby Road site.
The heritage workshops and depot are now secure from any potential alternative development and a £12,500 feasability study into a museun is underway, funded by a grant from the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund.
Charitable status has also been applied for to help with fundraising, and a range of memorabilia is to be launched.
The depot could be divided into an operational area and exhibition halls, while guided workshop tours would also be part of the offer.
Successful open days have proved there is an appetite for the scheme - last year’s open day to mark the 130th anniversary of the tramway was massively over-subscribed.
Bryan added: “There is so much history here.
“These tram sheds were built in 1935 and are the only first generation trams sheds in Europe which are still operational.
“In fact trams have been working out of this site since 1885.
“But it is about the future too. It is something which will benefit everyone in Blackpool and is seen as a catalyst for the regeneration of this part of the town.”