During the 1930s Blackpool Corporation spent thousands updating the tram fleet with over a hundred streamlined centre entrance tramcars. This investment helped the tramway survive to the present day. Walter Luff, the General Manager of the transport department from 1933, led the revolution of Blackpool’s tramway and many of the trams introduced during the 1930s are still in service at Blackpool today
The first design to be introduced was the Railcoach, a streamlined centre entrance single deck design that included features from contemporary coach design which competed with the tramway for tourist traffic. 45 Railcoaches were built at the Preston workshops of English Electric whilst other designs included an Open top single decker, and both enclosed and open-top double deck designs of similar streamlined appearance.
45 Railcoaches were delivered in two batches, 25 in 1933/4 (Nos.200-224) and 20 more in 1935 (264-283). Our example, No.279, formed part of the second batch and was largely confined to the main Starr Gate to Fleetwood service, though in later years the Railcoaches were used on the Marton, Squires Gate and North Station routes which were closed in the early 1960s.
In 1958 an experiment with trailer operation resulted in ten Railcoaches being rebuilt with Coronation-car style end profiles to tow new 66-seat trailers. All were painted in all-cream livery initially and were used during the summer months as a means of increasing the number of high capacity trams.
Later seven of the trailers were permanently coupled to their towing cars but three (including 279 - now renumbered 679) were never converted and from 1972 they operated without their trailers.
22 Railcoaches were scrapped in the 1960s (or converted for other uses), 10 had become trailer towing cars and the remaining 13 were converted into one man trams in the 1970s, resulting in the original Railcoach design disappearing from the tramway.
678-680 were fitted with heaters for winter use and have outlived their trailers which were scrapped. From the late 1980s, advertising liveries began appearing on the trio and in early 1990s, 679 was overhauled with rebuilt underframe and, later still, bus seating and flush mounted glazing.
In 2004, 679 reverted to its 1980s style green and cream livery. However, despite this, the tram operated infrequently in 2004 and as part of a general reduction in the size of the operational tram fleet, 679 was withdrawn at the end of the year. In November 2008 it was acquired by the LTT for preservation.
679 is being rebuilt to its original cab-end design as a streamlined Railcoach. This complex job has involved the fabrication of new cab underframes and steel cab end framework to the style of the original wooden cab framings. Swing over seats have been refitted; new half drop windows made and installed and the interior wood work stained. Task required to complete the car include modification to the wiring to suit the new cab layout; installation of new windscreens and fabrication of new domes.
After a pause in the work following the failed attempt to complete the tram in 2010, restoration work restarted in September 2018 and is progressing well, with a view to completion in 2020.