Blackpool Heritage Trams will return to Blackpool’s famous promenade from Saturday 29th May all the way through to the end of the year.
Due to the huge success of pre-booking our tours in 2020, you can now pre-book your Promenade, Coastal and Illumination tour online at www.blackpoolheritage.com
Over the next coming weeks, we will be announcing the return of our special tours, along with a couple new ones…keep your eyes peeled for the announcement!
The last year has seen many changes and one change that will still be in place for our return will be social distancing. Our conductors will safely seat customers in their pre-booked seats for peace of mind when you travel with us.
We have put extra cleaning measures in place, with all areas of the tram being regularly deep cleaned and high touch point areas sanitised after every tour.
Customers will need to wear a face covering on board unless they are exempt under the latest government guidance.
We recommend booking online in advance to avoid disappointment as many of our tours are likely to sell out.
Introduced in 1962 and modelled on a train from a western film, the Illuminated Western Train Tram attracted long queues in its heyday as seaside visitors waited for a ride. It was withdrawn from service due to old age in 1999 and for some time was under threat of being broken up for scrap.
Thanks to the Lottery Heritage Fund, between 2007 and 2009, this national icon was completely rebuilt and fully restored to its authentic 1962 condition externally, whilst internally, the carriage was returned to its 1928 appearance. It is also the very first Blackpool tram to be fitted with wheelchair access, which has been incorporated into the rebuilt locomotive without altering the external appearance of this historic vehicle. A ride on the tram is a trip down memory lane for Blackpool’s locals and visitors alike.
From the very outset of the project, Blackpool Transport Services received over a thousand letters from the public through a Gazette appeal, hoping to carry on the tradition of a ride on the Western Train Tram. Sir Cliff Richard, who travelled on the tram to the ABC Theatre in Church Street to reopen the theatre and launch the first summer show there in 1963, said at the time of the Lottery Grant announcement in 2007:
“It’s hard to imagine Blackpool without its historic trams and, without initiatives such as this, they could one day be lost for ever. Like thousands of others, I have fond memories of my trip on this famous tram, and think it’s fantastic that a whole new generation will be able to share the experience.”
The current conservation work including bodywork repairs, full repaint and rewire aim to continue and maintain this ongoing tradition.
From an idea to a reality
At the time, television, albeit black and white and poor definition, was still the latest wonder, with many people still aspiring to TV ownership, or at least TV rental. One of the most charismatic children’s programmes was Casey Jones, which took the then highly popular Western genre and built a series of weekly railway based dramas set in the Old West around the eponymous train driver and his young son.
The new tram took the Casey Jones train as its popular template whilst as its starting point it used a 1928 Pantograph Class tramcar, newly withdrawn, which with its high clerestory roof looked very like a late 19th century American railway coach. The cabs at either ends of the tram were replaced by open balconies and half of the western train’s structure was complete.
At this time, Blackpool Transport had just introduced its fleet of Twin Car trams, having purchased a dozen sets of electrical and air control couplings, permitting the use of unpowered trailers. A spare set of couplings were used to link the Pantograph-derived coach to an all-new railway locomotive body which was constructed from the remains of a withdrawn 1934 single deck tram. Other than the chassis and rear saloon, little survived of the 1934 tram but the essential outline of an American 4-4-0 locomotive and tender was created to tow the coach, with passengers riding in both the coach, and the loco tender, whilst the driver was seated in the glass fronted locomotive smokebox.
How the illuminated tram came to life
All of the Blackpool Illuminated Feature Cars have been built on the frames and chassis of earlier trams and the Western Train is no exception. The motor unit or “Locomotive” towing car is built on the chassis of a 1934 English Electric Railcoach and very little survives of the original, save for the rear half of the passenger saloon, which has retained many original interior design features from window level down.
The trailer or “Carriage” was formerly a 1928 Pantograph tram and essentially very little was altered from its original appearance save for the removal of the driving cabs. It is one of only two remaining vehicles of its type out of an original fleet of ten and is now the only remaining one in Blackpool. Internally, even more of the original survives and the interior fabric was restored to “as built” condition.
The Illuminated Western Train tramcar is a very special and unique vehicle. It is an icon, both in terms of the world renowned Blackpool Illuminations and also the historic and much loved Blackpool Tramway Experience. It arguably provides one of the most exciting and tangible links for future generations from all ages and all walks of life to enjoy their heritage.
This has been far more than just a fundraising exercise for a much loved and very special public treasure, because it sends out a message of positivity and hope for the future. When we all come out of this pandemic and are able to pick up where we left off, we need to know that the things that we value and hold dear are going to be there for us when we need them. Thanks to the support from this group of incredibly positive, focussed and forward thinking people, the beacon of hope that the Western Train has become, will do more than just brighten up people’s lives and create that all important smile factor. It will enhance the positive mental health and wellbeing of all those that have shared in this project whilst selflessly gifting the same benefit for all those who will enjoy seeing and riding on it in the future. You are all helping to keep that magic alive. Please accept our sincere thanks to you all.
There will be other opportunities for you to support our famous trams in the future and hear about our progress, therefore if you would like to be added to our mailing list, please click on the link below.
Today we announce a campaign to raise £2,500 of vital funds to complete the restoration of the ‘Western Train’ illuminated tram.
The fundraiser will create the vital funds, which are needed to purchase outstanding wire and electrical fittings as part of a full external re-wire, body overhaul and repaint to restore the tram to its original glory.
The nation’s favourite Blackpool illuminated tram was in the process of being renovated in 2019. Since the Covid pandemic, our Heritage service has mostly been suspended with little income being generated to fund vital fleet restoration.
A year later, the Western Train is being lovingly dusted down on a regular basis in the Rigby Road workshop awaiting the final stages of work to complete its restoration.
The public fundraiser is the first of its kind for us and it will give the public the opportunity to contribute to the restoration and future preservation of a much-loved Blackpool attraction.
Without the help and generous donations from the public, the Western Train is at risk of missing yet another illuminations season later in the year. We have seen most of our precious income disappear in the last 10 months which, is ordinarily used to fund vital preservation work.
We’re now seeking the generosity of the public to contribute in any way they can, from a penny to a pound, so that we can get this famous tram back out on Blackpool’s promenade and delight the residents and visitors to our resort once again.
As a result of an article in a well-known local magazine, there is some misinformation being shared in respect of some forthcoming tram movements. Whilst not giving too much away about the Company’s future plans, it is no secret that Blackpool Transport is about to commence a phased series of essential redevelopments at Rigby Road depot in order to re-purpose it for the future for both bus and heritage tram. This work will be spread over a number of years. As a result, the volume of space currently occupied by the heritage department will progressively shrink, leaving us with reduced space in which to work and to store our heritage assets. In order to facilitate these changes, it became crucial to re-assess the trams stored at Rigby Road and it was immediately apparent that we have too many.
For some considerable time, in order to assist various organisations and individuals, we have been in the position of being able to store trams on their behalf entirely free of charge because we had the space to accommodate them. Now, those circumstances are changing and we are no longer able to continue this arrangement. The owners are all fully understanding, grateful for the support and assistance that we have provided free of charge in terms of storage and are entirely aware as to the reasons. Indeed, before the notice letters were sent out, representatives of each group or owner were contacted either in person or by telephone to appraise them of the situation. Additionally, each owner had an opportunity to make representation for consideration ahead of the letters being sent out. This resulted in one tramcar being immediately removed from the list along with another one subsequently.
Following a 6 month cessation of all heritage activities at Rigby Road depot brought about by a complete closure of the heritage works and the furlough of its staff, the engineering team began a phased return from circa September onwards. On our return, a priority target for us was to resolve the issue of the intermittently faulty traction motor on car 143. Prior to lockdown the motor had been sent to CPM Engineering in Manchester, a specialist contractor in rotating electrical machines and they determined that a full rebuild and restoration would be required costing £13,600. Everything then stalled as the country went into lockdown.
As Blackpool Transport had previously undertaken a £23,000 overhaul of the bogies, including a full overhaul and repair of the other motor by CPM as our contribution towards this project some years earlier, we felt we were honour bound to make good the newly failed second motor as part of our ongoing contribution towards the operational re-instatement of this lovely vehicle. CPM were duly contracted to undertake the work and we are awaiting the return of the motor. Once this has been fitted the tram will undergo a period of testing before release into traffic. As yet we can put no timescale on these events.
Back in 2020, we were delighted to learn that we have been honoured with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK.
The volunteers who operate Blackpool Heritage Tram Tours, part of Blackpool Transport Services, enable the protection, conservation and operation of a unique fleet of vintage tramcars on the tramway for which they were built (one of only two tramways in the world to operate double-deck trams), thereby widening public access to a rich part of the nation’s heritage. In doing so they are developing a wide variety of skills, creating a major contribution to the welfare of their local community and fulfilling the purposes of wellbeing, learning and education.
We are one of 230 charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to receive the prestigious award last year. The number of nominations remains high year on year, showing that the voluntary sector is thriving and full of innovative ideas to make life better for those around them.
The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service aims to recognise outstanding work by volunteer groups to benefit their local communities. It was created in 2002 to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Recipients are announced each year on 2nd June, the anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation. Award winners are wonderfully diverse. They include volunteer groups from across the UK, including a community shop in Cornwall, an environmental group in Swansea, a group working with refugees and vulnerable people in Stirling and a thriving community arts centre in County Down.
Head of Heritage, Bryan Lindop says: “Having worked with this remarkable and talented group of volunteers now for over 5 years, it fills me with great pride to see them achieve this pinnacle of national recognition. It takes a lot of dedication, commitment, sheer grit and determination to maintain the high standard of excellence that they have become renowned for. The volunteers, the community that they serve and indeed the nation’s heritage adoring public who come to Blackpool to benefit from the sheer feel-good factor that the heritage tram tours create are inspiring new generations to cherish and appreciate their heritage; to participate in something culturally unique and life-affirming, and by doing so, ensuring that future generations will be able to continue to enjoy this inspiring public amenity.”
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