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Catching the 241 balloon tram

On a recent tour of the heritage trams operation at Rigby Road depot I was lucky enough to catch some of the final pieces of work being carried out on the balloon tram 241. Here we share a brief history of the vehicle and an idea of what it will look like on completion.

In January 1933, legendary manager of Blackpool Corporation Transport, Walter Luff, took office and quickly acquired a fleet of streamline trams from the English Electric Company in Preston as part of a five-year tramway modernisation plan. One of these trams was a prototype open-top double-deck bogie car, intended to replace the ageing open top Dreadnought cars and dubbed a ‘luxury dreadnought’, although the type later came to be known as ‘balloons’. Orders were placed for full production batches, including tram 241, one of 13 numbered 237 to 249. It entered service in Blackpool on 20th September 1934.

During the Second World War the population of Blackpool swelled considerably due to huge numbers of troops under training, government departments being re-located from London and evacuees from inland towns and cities being housed in Blackpool. There was therefore a need for more double deck trams that could operate all the year round. Thus the ‘luxury dreadnoughts’ underwent a conversion and became totally enclosed. The converted tram 241 re-entered traffic in March 1942.

Black and white photograph of tram 241 under restoration at Rigby Road depot, awaiting its reinstated panelling.
Tram 241 stands in the Rigby Road depot awaiting its panelling refitting

In the post-war years, the double deck streamliners apparently received little attention although they remained in year-round operation on the Lytham Road services until 1952. However, in 1954 Joseph Franklin succeeded Walter Luff and saw the potential in the high-capacity double deckers, which seated 84. The vehicles were modernised, being fitted with extra seating and other detail improvements. The improved tram 241 left the works in May 1957. It is to this condition that tram is now being painstakingly restored in Blackpool Transport’s heritage workshops.

Tram 241 was allocated to Marton Depot in 1962 in order to provide extra capacity on the Marton tram route at peak times. In the winter of 1968-69, the car was selected to be fitted with a snow plough, although the need for such was a relatively rare occurrence in Blackpool. The next few decades saw the vehicle in regular seasonal service, along with other ‘balloons’ (although that term was never officially adopted).

Black and white photograph of one driving cab of tram 241 awaiting re fitting.
Here is one of 241’s driving cabs with some of its gear intact, the rest to be refitted shortly.

In 1986, as a result of bus deregulation, Blackpool Transport Services Ltd became an arm’s length commercial company to run what had been the Blackpool Corporation Transport Department. As part of this change, the familiar corporation crests were removed from buses and trams and a new Blackpool Transport logo, featuring waves and Blackpool Tower, were used instead. Following on from this, a new version of the logo, the ‘Blackpool and Fleetwood Tramway’ was adopted on the trams. The vehicle was the first balloon car to receive this new logo in 1991. It was finally withdrawn from service in 2003 as a largely unrefurbished vehicle and placed into store.

Following the tramway’s upgrade to a light rail transit system from April 2012, the number of now heritage trams in the Blackpool Transport fleet was reduced. The Lancastrian Transport Trust acquired this vehicle, storing it at Marton until it was returned to Rigby Road in June 2014, whereupon the restoration process commenced.

Hopefully we will soon see tram 241 plying the promenade as part of the heritage fleet. Looking forward to its relaunch ceremony!

Main image: a gouache colour artist’s impression of tram 241 when it is completed

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    I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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