Flexity near Manchester Square south of the Tower
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. 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)