Since 1914 Blackpool has had at least one illuminated car. From a standard car with lights to the remarkable Western Train, they have brought a bit of added colour to the Promenade on Illumination Nights.
In the early 60's it was decided that a new fleet of illuminated trams were required to replace the original illuminated trams, the Gondola, Lifeboat and Progress cars, which were well past their best. They had been built from even older trams which dated back to the early days of the system. Another problem was that the electrics were needing renewed and the trams were practically live, especially when it rained.
Following the closure of the Street routes around blackpool, less trams were required. A number of railcoaches and pantograph cars were being withdrawn at this time, which allowed some of them to be converted or rebuilt into a new fleet of illuminated cars.
First up was the building of a pleasure steamer- The Blackpool Belle, which seated 32 people, it was rebuilt from Pantograph 163.
Next up was the rocket, rebuilt from Pantograph 168, which has its passenger saloon at a 45 degree angle to the with a pointed end and the entrance through the 'firey end' at the back.
Next up came undoubtedly the best illuminated tram ever, The Western Train. The 'engine', rebuilt from Railcoach 209, had a tender, (the shape of the tender really showed its railcoach origins) where passengers sat and a carrige, built from Pantograph 174, for the public to sit in as well.
Following this, the hovertram, built from Railcoach 222, is a double decked illuminated tram in the shape of a hovercraft was built and at the time, had one of the highest passenger capacities of the fleet.
Then came the frigate HMS Blackpool, built from Pantograph 170 which was shaped like a Warship.
Until 1965, the illuminated feature cars were supplimented by 2 standard cars, 159 and 160, which were covered in lights for use in illumination tours. The feature cars also found use on specials and circular tours during daylight in the 1960's.
In 1968, the trams were numbered 731- 736 and continued operating on the prom until 1982 when 731 was transferred to America, where it is still running albeit in a different form and with diesel power.
As the years went on use of the illuminated fleet became confined to illumination nights and occasional private hires and rarely travelled north of Little Bispham and the illuminated trams were starting to become tired and a number of banks of lights were not replaced when the bulbs burned out.
Towards the end of the 1990's the powers at be were becoming concerned with the state of the illuminated fleet, which had barely received any attention since they were built in the 1960's and parts of the trams remained the same as they were from their previous lives as railcoaches or pantograph cars, such as underframes, motors, bogies, framework and large parts of bodywork. Also the interest in the tours was beginning to decline with some nights being very quiet and few tours were needed. Also the strange decision was taken for illuminated trams to turn at Pleasure Beach on tours instead of Starr Gate thus missing out a full mile of the illuminations (full price was still charged though)
Following the 1999 Illuminations, the Rocket and the Western Train were withdrawn in need of a full overhaul and rewire, At the same time, Brush car 633, which had been withdrawn with structural faults, was stripped down in preperation for a rebuild and following much debate and consideration and the realisation that the Hovertram and Frigate would not last much longer, 633 was rebuilt as an illuminated trawler, which can also be used as an all year round service car. This car came into service in time for the 2001 illuminations.
2001 was also the last outing for the Hovertram and HMS Blackpool, which were also withdrawn in need of a rewire and refit.
In 2003, the Rocket was donated to the LTT to allow this group to preserve the tram although in 2008 there are rumours that it may return to service following a refit as a mobile display (in original condition) to advertise the illuminations by travelling up and down through the illuminated section although unfortunately not carrying passengers.
633 at Fleetwood Ferry July 2003
Also in 2003, HMS Blackpool was stripped down for a complete rebuild, with features such as automatic doors, air conditioning, and model helecopter gunships on the roof!!!, it re entered service in 2004. It is also availiable as an all year round service car as it has heating, although its use is confined to the illumination period.
In 2003 the Western train made an appearance at Tram Sunday, this came about as the double decker ban meant that a number of vintage trams and double deckers could not attend, however the tram could not move under its own power following fire and collision damage which had occured since withdrawal, the engine was towed to Fleetwood by 678 and the carriage by 633.
In 2007 following many requests for funding, work finally started on the restoration of the Western Train following the receipt of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The body work and the framework of the locomotive tender was in such a bad way that towing coach 677 from twin set 677+687 had to be scrapped to provide a new frame for the tender section of the locomotive. This means that the various parts of the locomotive have had the following fleet numbers during its lifetime, 209 (the original underframe and the tender section when it was a railcoach), 277 (677's original number), 677 (the body section from 677) and 733 (confused? you should be!!!! and its not over yet) and for a while when the framework for the locomotive was transferred to a new underframe, there was officially 2 733's, but if you count 677's old body and framework, there could have been 3 x 733 for a while (told you, you would be confused)!!!! The Western Train should hopefully return to service in 2009.
The Hovertram was sold to Bus world in Beith, Ayrshire during 2007, where it will be on static display and undergo a cosmetic overhaul. 633 was renumbered 737 in 2008 to keep it in line with the numbering of the other illuminated trams and not with the Brush cars as was previously the case. 737 was used as a driver training tram during spring / summer 2008 due to a shortage of suitable servicable single deckers.
|Original Number||Current Number||Built||Status||livery||Notes|
|163||731||rebuilt 1959||preserved||Blackpool Belle|
|168||732||rebuilt 1961||preserved||Rocket||preserved by LTT, awaiting rebuild|
|209 / 677||733||rebuilt 1962||in service||Western Train engine|
|174||734||rebuilt 1962||in service||Western Train Carrige|
|222||735||rebuilt 1963||withdrawn||Hovertram||now at Busworld, Beith Ayrshire|
|170||736||rebuilt 2004||in service||HMS Blackpool||relaunched Sept 2004|
|633||737||rebuilt 2001||in service||illuminated Trawler|