Balloon 717 of 1935

717_01 AR

717 was built by the English Electric Co., Preston, in December 1934 as one of a batch of 14 similar double deck trams. They were the latest in the streamlined family introduced by General Manager Walter Luff as part of a revolutionary five year modernisation plan which saw 116 brand new trams, of several different types, delivered during the years between 1933 and 1939. The double deck cars soon earned the name ‘Luxury Balloons’ due to their well appointed interiors and distinctive streamlined appearance.

This tram entered service on 15th December 1934, and the class were initially used all year round on the Promenade and Lytham Road routes. During the Second World War the Balloons were joined by 13 former open top ‘Luxury Dreadnoughts’ which were fitted with enclosed top deck covers to match, increasing the class to 27 cars. The Balloons were relegated to a seasonal role following the delivery of new trams from 1952 although they continued to see extensive use each year from Easter until the end of the autumn illuminations. Over the years the class have been much modified, and were renumbered 700 – 726 in 1968. However the type remained in regular use each summer until the Blackpool Tramway was fully upgraded as a modern Light Rail system in 2012 by which time they had reached the grand old age of 78!

Although no longer used in normal passenger service, Blackpool Transport Services Ltd. have retained a selection of Balloons as part of their Heritage fleet to recognise the service these trams have provided over nearly 80 years. These include tram 717, restored to its original appearance in 2008 thanks to a bequest from the late Philip R. Thorpe. In 2014 717 was name “Walter Luff” after the manager who introduced the streamlined fleet.