Until the fairly recent initiative to re-introduce a tram service in some major towns and cities around Britain, the Blackpool Tramway was the last to survive in England. Since 1885 electric trams have been operating along the entire length of Blackpool promenade, extending to Fleetwood in 1898. The line runs for 18 kilometers (just over 11 miles) and, during the summer season, up to 65 cars may be in service. The early trams used to pick up the current from a slot between the rails but this proved unreliable when sea water and sand interrupted the supply causing inevitable breakdowns. By the end of the nineteenth century the trams were serviced by overhead electric cables, despite many concerns about the potential dangers of this method.
Not surprisingly, tram cars have appeared in a number of guises throughout the last 120 years, and have been given some amusing nicknames. At the beginning of the twentieth century there were the 'toastracks', a rather primitive design of tram that was effectively a row of benches on a mobile platform. With no sides, no top, and no central walkway, this must have been quite an exciting way to travel, especially for the conductor who had to hang off the side of the car to collect fares! In the 1930s these were eventually replaced with an open top, deep-sided car resembling the shape of a boat, and were affectionately known as the 'boats'.
By this time many tramways elsewhere in the country were disappearing in favour of trolley bus services, but Blackpool were convinced that the tramway remained the most efficient and reliable form of transport. A new, fully enclosed carriage came into service in about 1933, so streamlined and comfortable that it was named the 'railcoach'. The luxury trams of the 1950s, the Coronations, proved expensive to maintain and almost the entire stock were eventually scrapped, but the experimental 'Progress Twin Cars' developed at the end of that decade were a success and still run today.
The first double decked tram, the enormous 'Dreadnought' appeared just before the turn of the century, and successfully operated along the promenade for over thirty years. At the end of the 1934 season this mighty tram was superseded by the 'Balloon' - the double deck version of the smart new railcoach - and many of these are still in use today. Modern versions of the double decked tram were built between 1984 and 1993, and they continue to provide a regular service throughout the year.
Blackpool Transport Services continue to operate the Blackpool Tramway, providing a service to some seven million passengers for 362 days every year. Although no museum exists in the town, some of the vintage cars can be seen during special events and the preserved Dreadnought, Coronation, and Boats put in seasonal appearances every summer. As the most popular seaside resort in the north of England, there is much more to Blackpool than slot machines and amusements. For the many in search of charm and nostalgia, what could be more memorable than riding the Blackpool Tramway in a 1930s tram car and arriving at one of the resort's beautiful Victorian piers.