Blackpool Centenary Cars

In the early 80's, it was becoming clear to Blackpool Corporation that there was a dire need to replace their current winter fleet cars (the OMOs) with new cars. The OMO's were only seen as a short term measure and problems with the bodies of these trams made their replacement a major priority.

The Corporation put out an invite to tender for the building of the new trams and in the end the tender was awarded to East Lancashire coachbuilders, originally for 10 cars however funding was cut and eventually only 7 trams were built. The trams were named Centenary Cars as the first tram, numbered 641 arrived and entered service in 1985 which was the tramway's centenary. The bodies of the Centenary trams had many similarities with a number of single deck buses which were in service across the UK at this time.

Also in 1985, a test tram numbered 651 which had the same style of body to 641 went into service, the tram was fitted with GEC motors and Marley and Taunton bogies modified from a withdrawn Coronation. The other 6 Centenary Cars were put into service in 2 batches of 3 with 642, 643 and 644 arriving in 1986 and 645, 646 and 647 arriving in 1987. Due to a cut in funding by the Government the final 3 Centenary cars, which would have been numbered 648 - 650, never arrived.

In 1990 following the end of experiments, it was decided that 651 would be useful as a standard Centenary Car and work started on refitting the equipment to make it compatable with it's sister cars. 651 was renumbered to 648 in 1990. The 8 Centenary cars formed much of the winter and early season output throughout the late 1980's, 1990's and 2000's.


641 at Imperial hotel stop August 2003

However during this period, these cars have been nothing but trouble to Blackpool, with large numbers of unexplainable faults and breakdowns caused in part by the high milages which these cars were expected to operate (often 7 from 8 cars needed on a daily basis during the winter) resulting in major service disruptions and in some cases, long periods out of service. Would there have been less problems if more of these trams had been built?

One of the most worrying faults to have occured happened on a cold and icy day in 1992 when the service brakes and emergency brake froze in the off position on 647 and the tram could not stop.

The driver had tried to apply the brake at the Imperial Hotel to no avail and the tram continued to roll from the Imperial Hotel tram stop gathering speed and smashing into a number of cars at the Metropole, it kept on going through Talbot Square, finally coming to a halt by the Tower.

When faults and breakdowns do occur, the OMO cars (until they were withdrawn in 1993) and now the Brush cars and railcoaches and occasionally balloon, millenium and jubilee cars have had to operate in their place. From 2000 - 2004, the Brush Cars and railcoaches took over the operation of the service in the early season replacing the Centenary cars until the start of the main timetables, when the double deckers or twin cars took over timetable operation.

Since 1999, all 8 centenary cars have been modernised, starting with 642, which received a new destination box and side roof panels. 641 became the next centenary car to be modernised and was outshopped like 642.

646, 643, 644 and 647 have all received new front ends whilst 645 has received a new front end skirt as well as a new front end.

The final car to be modernised, 648 has kept its original front end shapes to allow for a restoration back into original style in the future. Since 2005, the Centenary cars have seen more use in the summer on crew and OPO specials following the mothballing of a large majority of the Brush Cars and railcoaches. It is expected that the Centenary cars will continue to operate the main winter service and specials in the summer until a new fleet of modern low floored trams are built, it is expected that the Centenary Cars will be the first to go when the new fleet of trams arrive although one car (probably 648) will be kept for prosperity and also another Centenary may go to Crich.

Winter 2008/09 is likely to be the last winter in service for these trams as the tramway is due to be closed during winter 09/10, 10/11 and 11/12 to allow preperations for the new tramway to progress. They will however continue to see summer / illumination's use until the new fleet of low floor trams enters service. In 2009 it is expected that 642 and 647 will be relegated to reserve status meaning use will be limited to times when there is a shortage of availiable centenary trams. The Centenary Trams will go down in history as being the last class of First Generation Tram to be built, with 647 also being the last new First Generation tram to enter service.

blackpool tramway

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Original Number Current Number Built Status livery Notes
641 1985 in service Orion Bingo advert modernised
642 1986 reserve all over yellow metro livery modernised
643 1986 in service black and white with metro coastline stickers modernised
644 1986 in service Farmer Parrs advert modernised
645 1987 in service Jet2.com advert modernised
646 1987 in service Paul Gaunt Furniture advert refurbished
647 1987 reserve B and M bargains refurbished
651 648 1984 in service all over white with Metro branding stickers has retainied original fronts