An early casualty in the light rail upgrade scheme has been Blackpool's new tram depot at Starr Gate - sited just where the sea hits the land. A semi-permanent contractor's camp has now been erected outside the depot entrance to provide a base of operation for what seem to be extensive repairs to the structure's roof.
Gale force winds earlier this year succeeded in peeling away sections of the depot roof, including insulation layers under the metal cladding. This forced closure of the building and cessation of service to Starr Gate; with trams terminating at the Pleasure Beach. Road closure on the Promenade at Starr Gate was instigated as a precautionary measure, while emergency work was carried out with a clear up of roofing and insulation material liberally distributed elsewhere (see earlier blog).
Temporary repairs were sufficient to make safe the area (and the depot), but it now appears far more extensive reconstruction and strengthening of the west facing wall and building roof is necessary. Scaffolding has been erected along the roofline giving something of a 'fortress appearance,' while work is pushed forward during the balance of this summer (such as it is).
All of this begs the question on the original design and positioning of an important part of the light rail upgrade. Large external signage shows the depot was designed and developed with input from an EU project consultancy organisation specialising in - tram depot installations. Blundell Street Depot was similarly victim to high winds and roofing damage - but this was sixty odd years after it was built. Rigby Road Depot has managed to get through seventy odd years of structural integrity, although it has shown its age with leaking roofs latterly. Copse Road tram depot built in 1897 still stands with its original roof intact; whilst the larger Tramroad Company depot on Red Bank Road went on to become a cash and carry supermarket business after it closed in 1966. Marton's tram depot on Whitegate Drive; designed and built by Blackpool Corporation in 1901, lasted until its role became superfluous with closure of Marton's trams in 1962 - and with not a slate tile missing.
Blundell Street Depot - roof intact seventy years on : note the municipal ambulance parked at the rear where Blackpool's Ambulance Service was based. Both Photos : John Woodman
As Britain's weather patterns show increasing volatility the choice of Starr Gate's former car park next to a sea wall - will inevitably become a questionable decision. One which came well after the installation of expensive new track and points on the Promenade at Foxhall. This was to have allowed new trams to use a circular link and access to yet another Council owned Car park on Blundell Street (Below), then designated for a second life as a tram depot (this time for light rail use).
Trams would then have exited back on to the Promenade via Hopton Road and the new double junction relaid at Manchester Square at the beginning stage of the light rail upgrade. Or at least this was the original concept. Instead of course Council owned land at Starr Gate for a little used car park (and noisesome Go-Karting franchise) apparently became a desirable (but questionable) alternative. New housing now envelopes Blundell Street, on the former heavily contaminated (now remediated) industrial land which included Gas Holders, Gas Works, Foundry; and of course the former tram depot.
Whether the elements will look kindly on the newly reinforced Starr Gate depot structure (five years old) designed and conceived with the aid of EU tram depot design 'experts' - remains to be seen. The same wear, tear and salt laden air so beloved of finger pointing enthusiasts, has an even more dilatory effect on the sensitive electronics of light rail vehicles based there - whether covered or not. This is especially the case when roofing is arbitrarily removed by acts of nature. The one and only time weather intruded on Blackpool's tramway depots also involved gale force winds. Blundell Street depot was ultimately demolished as a consequence (to become a car park!). This was in a far less exposed position, and after seven decades of continuous occupancy without any problems.
Ee'lad they don't build them now like they used to !