The importance of interchanges between long distance or commuter travel with local tramways was well known from late Victorian times when the advent of electric trams saw new tram services positioned almost directly outside of railway stations. In Belfast the trams actually terminated inside two mainline railway stations. Currently at Manchester Victoria (no pun) Station work is nearing completion on a multi-million rebuild of the main terminal building incorporating Metrolink trams providing a seamless interchange.
Blackpool’s Talbot Road Station - as it was originally called; was built on the present site of the unattractive Wilko building and car park - a blot on the town centre landscape which no amount of external vinyl posters can ameliorate. The Station’s elegant red brick structure, with the usual vaulting glass and ironwork roof provided a classic entry (and departure point) for millions over the years.
The current ‘Blackpool North’ station is a 1930s concrete add-on to handle the huge volume of summer excursion trains piling into Blackpool - set back from the main terminus. Tram services passed the original station on two sides. The station entrance facing onto Dickson Road with taxi rank and canopy facade - had a simple single track stop for trams running northwards to Bispham, Cleveleys and Fleetwood. Passengers were unloaded directly in front of the station in what was usually busy traffic. On the southern side of the terminal building (which carried very large advertising posters of the season’s current shows) was the tram service to and from Layton. This was to have been extended further up Westcliff Drive, but prevailing sentiment after the Great War favoured buses over trams for new routes. Layton trams lasted from 1902 to 1936.
To complement these tram train links at North Station (Talbot Road) the Corporation created a bus station on the site of former stables adjoining the Talbot Hotel (long gone of course). This was called appropriately ‘Talbot Mews’, but when in 1939 the modernistic multi-storey car park was completed with a cavernous bus station on the ground level - the official title ‘Talbot Road Bus Station’ became a familiar feature on nearly all Blackpool bus destination screens. Ironically the still empty ground level units of the remodelled car park building - could quite easily be reconverted to public transport facilities for both buses, as well as the planned new tram terminus for North Station.
Trams ran up Talbot Road from Talbot Square and the Promenade at North Pier with little difficulty. They equally efficiently traversed up Clifton Street, turning in front of the classic ‘GPO Building’ into Abingdon Street, amid crowds of shoppers and busy traffic, before elegantly sweeping into Church Street and onwards towards Whitegate Drive. All this ended in the early 1960s (and for the Layton tram service - in 1936). With the latest data showing ever increasing decline in High Street retail outlets - and need for reappraising commercial retail development in Britain - it is to questionable whether the decision to promote new retail in what was Blackpool’s original transport interchange in Talbot Road Bus Station - was in fact wise or economically relevant. Certainly the Council have done wonders to the appearance of the former Talbot Road Car Park and the original bus station structure and the overall impression for arrivals at the current Blackpool North train station is vastly improved by the modernity of the three ‘new look’ buildings on Talbot Road.
The downside is the less appealing appearance of Talbot Road’s former retail strip running towards the seafront. A quandary for planners is fitting in the new tram terminus and ‘transport interchange’ mark two, to emerge yet again next to Blackpool’s railway station terminus. Some would heave a sigh of relief if demolition experts were to be called into remove the tired and depressing concrete bunker which house a privately run car park and retail store, questionable what value they bring to an important part of Blackpool town centre.
To see buses and trams coexist yet again on Talbot Road alongside a new generation of electric trains arriving and departing for destinations up and down the country - is an aim worth fighting for. Perhaps even the tram service continuing on through Layton to that other important destination - Victoria Hospital; may not be an aspiration too far. North Station in 2019 - Victoria Hospital via Layton five years on. After all the Hospital is one of the town’s largest employers and likely to remain so for generations to come. Its multi-million pound continuing expansion and development warrants serious consideration as a light rail destination. Being visited by hundreds of thousands each year it will inevitably merit its own transport interchange in due course. Both patients, visitors and staff would immeasurably benefit year round.