All the way to Fleetwood
The way we were. A Pantograph car waits to depart from outside Blackpool North railway station in British Railways days - it stands at the terminus where passengers got off and will trundle back to the northbound queue barrier opposite the Odeon cinema to pick up its next load with the conductor 'clocking in' with his or her bill card to register time of departure. Image courtesy : National Tramway Museum Archive
The announcement by Blackpool Council of its intention to acquire the Wilkinsons store site to allow redevelopment of this important property has attracted the usual tribe of naysayers and armchair critics with little else to do than sound off on 'social' media.
Running trams up Talbot Road is now a deterrent for local hackney cab drivers it seems who are less than charmed at having a non polluting and far less expensive transport mode inserting itself next to the railway station precinct. Not that there are any lack of licensed hacks in Blackpool's town centre at any one time. The
interface between the station and the tram terminus which will be a stub end
track on the former Wilkinson site presents something of a dilemma for planners given the different levels between the station terminus and the Wilkinson property.
A radical option would be to run trams down onto the vacant land abutting the station's southern platform and Talbot Road with a graduated gradient. This would mean changing the road pattern around the Wilkinson property - or allowing taxi access from Talbot Road. No doubt all options are being considered and of course
overall costs is an important factor. From the mid 1920s double tracks were embedded on Talbot Road as far as Cookson Street with a curved track linking to the Dickson Road terminus of the North Station tram service. The Layton tram service starting at Talbot Square was the only regular route operating along any length of Talbot Road until closure in 1936. During excavation of the road junction with Dickson Road the curving track into Talbot Road became evident - it had lain undisturbed over sixty years. The link and a single wired track running down Talbot Road from Dickson Road had been kept in situ into the early 1950s to allow for emergency diversions between the Promenade and Dickson Road at North Pier. With the overhead wiring removed the tram track was covered over with tarmac to provide future planners with a reminder of what has gone before.
No doubt as soon as work begins on track laying for the extension further remnants of Talbot Road's earlier tramway will come to light. Just as in Fleetwood there will be significant disruption once work begins with contractors requiring complete access to the roadway in order to facilitate a tightly scheduled scheme. Talbot Road itself has little commercial offer now. There are two or three public houses (inevitably) and a veritable shoal of charity 'shops' which now pollute this once thriving retail area. Advent of light rail service is as good excuse as any to remake Talbot Road and banish the tatty image it presents to residents and visitors. Along with the roving beggars and inebriates who have become the undesirable face of the town centre.
Of immediate interest to the tram cognoscenti are the routing of services to North Station and how BTS intend to operate trams. Somewhat premature at this stage but no doubt minds are considering the implications with a view to enhancing what will become an important transport hub in the next decade. In the meantime amateur tram watchers are busy coming up with a slew of what ifs and sundry uninformed observations. Running trams into mainline train stations with cross over transfers between trams and heavy rail are commonplace in Europe. With the advent of tramtrain technology in places like Karlsruhe and Kassel for example, there is no reason that forward thinking professionals should not look at the wider potential which is apparent on the Fylde coast. Fleetwood, Thornton, the Squires Gate Enterprise Zone, St Annes and Lytham are all communities which would benefit from initiatives that go beyond toy trains and local societies. Blackpool Council's endorsement of joining with other Lancashire Local Authorities and the County Council in a shared governing body which has economic development and transport as two of its primary responsibilities bring about a much bolder approach to blinkered thinking which bedevils the competitive nature of our local government. But that's for another commentary to expand on. In the meantime, by Deutsche Bahn to Blackpool North (sorry - I mean Arriva) and then onwards by tram to Fleetwood via Bispham. Two to Fleetwood please....via Poulton and Thornton segment to follow......