Of all the streetcars in Muni’s historic fleet, none turn heads faster than its two “boat trams” from Blackpool, England. They bring smiles to so many when they sail by — nautical air whistle gaily tooting.
Muni’s boat trams are two of twelve built for the English seaside resort city of Blackpool in 1934, where they delighted riders for decades on tours during fine weather months. Three of these boat trams, along with a wonderful variety of other vintage trams, still operate in Blackpool on special tours along the Irish Sea coast.
In the fall, some Blackpool trams are specially decorated for the “illuminations,” with elaborate lighting making the cars sparkle as the sun sets over the Irish Sea. Muni’s boat trams carry colored lights hung from their masts in tribute to this tradition. A strictly San Franciscan tradition is the “Jolly Roger” flag flying from the trolley rope of the boats, a nod to the free-wheeling spirit of our city, which embraces the unusual and fun.
Both of these wonderful streetcars (called trams in England) were gifted to Muni by our nonprofit, Market Street Railway, three decades apart.
The first boat tram to operate in San Francisco, No. 226, was leased from a museum for the first Trolley Festivals (which began in 1983). Its instant popularity created a desire to have one that Muni could own, and in 1984, Market Street Railway members acquired No. 228 and shipped it to San Francisco with support from Bechtel Group. No. 228 actually crossed the Atlantic twice. In 1976, it delighted Philadelphians with a special paint job as part of that city’s bicentennial celebration. Returned to Blackpool, it sat unused until it came to San Francisco, still in its Philly bicentennial paint. It was quickly returned to its 1934 Blackpool livery.
The great popularity of No. 228 led Market Street Railway to acquire a second boat tram, No. 233, for Muni in 2013. No. 233 was part of Blackpool Transport’s fleet until 2010, when it was declared surplus and was preserved by the non-profit Lancastrian Transport Trust (LTT). When LTT needed funding for restoration of a vintage double-deck Blackpool tram, Market Street Railway purchased it to donate to Muni. Funding for the purchase came from a generous grant from the Thoresen Foundation. FedEx Trade Networks underwrote the shipping of the tram from England to San Francisco.
Blackpool renumbered its boat trams when it reduced its fleet in the 1960s. Car 228 became 603, while 233 became 605. They have been restored to their original Blackpool numbers in San Francisco.
The slight electrical variations in these two originally identical trams reflect small changes Blackpool Transport made in them in the three decades between the acquisition of No. 228 and No. 233, a reminder that transit is a dynamic business where improvements are always sought.
While Muni’s second boat tram, 233, has been in San Francisco since 2013, few people realized the City now had two. Blackpool itself had already repainted one of its surviving boats from traditional green to an eye-popping red. With that prototype in mind, when the time came to repaint Boat 228, our nonprofit asked Muni to consider the red livery, to make it clear there was more than one. They agreed, and Red Boat 228 emerged from the shop on May 10, 2023, as pictured above
Search on “boat” in the search box at upper right to find articles about the boat trams.
Blackpool Tramways, Blackpool, England, 1934
Acquired by Muni From
Blackpool Tramways, Blackpool, England, 1984 (228)
Lancastrian Transport Trust, Blackpool, England, 2013 (233)
10′ 3″ (excluding trolley tower)
2 English Electric 305
BTH B18 (228)
English Electric Z4 (233)
Air, self-lapping, hand