FLEETWOOD TO LYTHAM BY TRAM TRAIN?
A long held ambition of Blackpool’s former municipal transport operation was the purchase of its neighbour Lytham St Annes Corporation Transport, based just across the municipal boundary (literally) at Squires Gate. In the de-regulation era this takeover was finally achieved with Blackpool Transport’s buses incorporating south Fylde routes. More particularly a far sighted intention in the 1930s was extension of Blackpool’s trams beyond the then new terminal loop at Starr Gate, southwards to St Annes. This was aborted by narrow minded political distinctions in Lytham St Annes Council (by One Vote) in 1936 despite generous terms from Blackpool.
In recent years credible proposals have been tabled to convert the South Fylde railway line, which once carried express trains to Manchester and London, as well as shoals of excursions from east Lancashire to Blackpool Central; to tram train operation. At the moment the single track line from Kirkham to the rudimentary stub terminus at Blackpool South can only handle one train an hour - and is an embarrassing hangover from the Beeching cuts.
Light rail as we now know it has come of age. Modern trams running on heavy rail tracks are common features in several European countries, most notably Netherlands, France and Germany. A UK test bed line is currently being developed between Meadowhall terminus in Sheffield and Rotherham (I drove past its construction a few days ago). The economic case for linking the important BAE facility and enterprise zone at Warton, with a light rail connection that also serves Squires Gate Airport and emergent investment at that location is increasingly plausible. Tram train technology is able to readily bring frequent and more user friendly services connecting Lytham, Ansdell and Fairhaven, St Annes business centre; interconnecting with mainline rail at a Preston Station interchange platform (as well as at Kirkham and Wesham). At the Blackpool end - the current excuse of a train station might easily be extended a further half mile to Bloomfield Road and Football Stadium; as connecting into a new transport heritage leisure scheme that utilises some of the existing Blackpool Transport site at Rigby Road. The latter itself scheduled for redevelopment in the foreseeable future. Instead of ‘Central Station’ we would have ‘Stadium and Promenade’
The Fylde coast falls within the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ concept of this Conservative led Coalition Government, even if HS4?5?and6? are not likely to see Japanese designed superfast trains racing towards the Tower from Preston and the West Coast Mainline. More down to earth commonsense suggests an integrated tram train programme utilising dormant rail right of way in the Fylde. This would facilitate economic revival for geographically disadvantaged Fleetwood, and help strengthen the case for connecting the many dots of technology investment, skills training and higher education along the entire Fylde coast.
Most recent plans for hovercraft service linking Fleetwood with Barrow (another geographically disadvantaged community in the northwest with high tech industry) and Warton/Lytham with Southport are more than straws in the wind. This small area of England may easily find itself with ‘cutting edge’ integrated transport investment. Blackpool’s ownership of the eleven mile light rail service from Fleetwood is a key foundation on which diverse plans may coalesce.
As previously referenced on this blog - the North Station extension is just the start in a visionary plan for uplifting the Fylde coast’s image as a high technology locale, adding to the holiday weekend and leisure profile.