BLACKPOOL’S famous trams were back in service today as the new tourist season got into full swing for Easter.
And the return of the much-loved fleet – after five months away – was heralded as a major step forward in the battle to complete the town’s regeneration.
The trams have not been running since the end of the last year’s Illuminations to enable the upgrade of the track to go ahead as part of the £100m redevelopment of the tramway.
Passengers will be unable to board trams in front of the Tower because of continuing building work, and the service will only operate between the Pleasure Beach and North Pier, hopefully extending to Bispham next week.
But the restoration of the link means people can connect with key attractions and accommodation along the Promenade once more.
Managing director of Blackpool Transport Trevor Roberts said: “It will be a truncated service and speed limits will be in place for safety reasons as the trams pass through the main area of work in front of The Tower.
“But the main thing is we’ve been able to get the trams out and people will be able to get on at North Pier from today and travel as far as the Pleasure Beach, and back again. We are hoping to extend the service to the cabin at Bispham from next Friday.
“After that, if we are given more of the track back, we will try to extend the service even further.
“It is the last summer of the old system before the trams go off again at the end of this year’s Illuminations and then from April 2012 we will have the new system in place.”
Helen France, Blackpool Council’s executive director for tourism, also welcomed the return of the trams.
She said: “The tram project is on target and despite being a really complicated scheme, it is on time.
“Getting the trams running again in time for Easter is important because it gives people the message that Blackpool is open again, we are creating a new Blackpool and that is beginning to happen.
“Meanwhile, it will be fantastic next year when the new fleet of trams arrives.”
Hoteliers said the trams’ return was important for the economy.
Claire Smith, president of hoteliers group StayBlackpool, said: “We have really missed the trams because lots of B&Bs, including ourselves, advise guests to leave their cars behind and just hop on and off the trams to get along the Promenade.
“They are also an attraction in their own right with many people saying they come to Blackpool to go up The Tower, visit the Pleasure Beach and take a ride on a tram.”
The trams are due to operate a 15 minute service between 9.20am and 9.40pm. Anyone wanting to travel further north can use alternative bus services 1A and 1.
As the season progresses it is hoped to open further sections of the track as far as Fleetwood.
The new fleet of 16 supertrams is currently being built in Germany with the first tram due in the resort for testing in the summer. They will be housed in the new tram depot, which has been built at Starr Gate.
A heritage fleet will also be retained as a tourist attraction.
Full timetables can be obtained from Blackpool Transport Travel Centres at Market Street (next door to BHS) and Rigby Road.