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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Tram Trains 'r us ? Maybe

As the first UK effort to implement 'tram train' operation nears the start line in Sheffield and Rotherham - it is worth relating initial studies made on similar possibilities on the Fylde Coast. Sheffield and Rotherham were once linked by tram service operated by both municipal systems. Rotherham was unusual in purchasing (from English Electric) a small fleet of single ended double deck trams for this important 'main line'. They took the shape of rail bound trolleybuses and unique to Rotherham. This all ended in the late 1940s. Sheffield now has a second generation tramway/light rail system and a renewal of a fixed track tram service between these two Yorkshire towns makes eminent sense.

Tram trains are of course now an accepted feature of urban and interurban systems in Europe. Starting with Karlsruhe and proliferating on (or is it 'cascading on') systems elsewhere; in particular Germany (of course); France, Netherlands etc. Now finally after much expenditure on extended consultancy fees, studies and railway planning rigmarole, where costs escalate by the page or meeting - we finally will see a Spanish manufactured unit operating on the existing Sheffield Tram system and over former heavy rail lines to new station stops in neighboring Rotherham. Views of the new link line can be glimpsed when traversing the Don Valley on the M1 viaduct.

The 2013 report is concerned with adapting Blackpool's tram line for tram train operation points to the existing south Fylde rail line running from its stub end terminus just off Lytham Road and Waterloo Road - to Kirkham (entirely single line devoid of passing loops) as candidate for integration with the upgraded Blackpool tramway. (Above) The clumsily named 'Sintropher' project of the European Union is a five year 23 Million Euro transnational scheme aimed at enhancing local and regional transport provisions to and from within five peripheral regions in northwest Europe. Eurospeak qualifiying verbiage further categorises this particular study as falling within INTERREG IVB and European Cohesion Policy. The study makes reference to UK railway planning and diverse strategy options under consideration that could involve light rail features stemming from Blackpool's existing operation.

We assume that if the current Sheffield and Rotherham operation launch next year is successful, then the merits of further extensions that utilise all or part of the Blackpool system may be realised (presumably after umpteen more studies and consultancy contracts). There is no doubt that the Fylde coast's future will be better served by joined up rail links; whether heavy or light rail (or of course both). A pressing need to restore rail service to Fleetwood must be a high priority, together with reinvigorating the existing south Fylde line from Kirkham to Blackpool (and onward connections) have to both high on future objectives. In this context tram train scenarios are indeed achievable goals on the Fylde coast. Of course the limited area at Starr Gate depot would require a more substantial rail storage venue elsewhere for significant additional rolling stock and its upkeep. The potential at Burn Naze exists for such investment; as do sites elsewhere in proximity to the South Fylde line (Wesham former sidings area springs to mind).

Perhaps the new rail franchise holder for the northwest region may grasp the nettle (and opportunity) to pull public bodies and regulatory authorities together: aided and abetted by the LEP and economic interests in the Fylde. If Tram Trains are good enough for Rotherham and Sheffield, then they are certainly a factor in new rail investment for Fleetwood, Burn Naze, Poulton, Lytham and Kirkham, not to mention Blackpool, Squires Gate and Warton among other economic clusters in the Fylde.

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