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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Bits and pieces

The Council's required public consultation period to receive views on the proposed tram extension to North Station has finally ended not without a regular dose of letters to the local paper arguing strongly against expenditure of public funds to the tune of £4.7M in a total capital costs (presumably including the two further trams) of £22M. Additional expenditure has taken place through the Council's purchase of the Wilkinson store property to allow new development on that site which will incorporate the terminus of the line from the promenade up Talbot Road. A public exhibition of the planned extension and its impact on the current road layout has been also concluded at Central Library. Most vociferous in their complaints against the extension are the Blackpool Licensed Taxi Operators Association.

Probably no surprise there then! There wasn't a tramway extension in Blackpool's history which didn't fail to draw the ire of the local Hackney Drivers at one point or another.

It is fair to say however that the town centre is devoid of alternate traffic routes following the pedestrianisation of lower Church Street and part of Abingdon Street. The options for planners in easing traffic flow are very few indeed. North Station is especially ill suited to easing road access, located as it is at a much lower level than Talbot Road - and with a most peculiar entryway for vehicles of any type.

Trackwork update. Failure of embedded mechanism in one of the points at Starr Gate has meant a check on the original installations along the line. The seven man Permanent Way crew are kept busy with ongoing attention to the eleven mile running line (double track) as well as the depot access area both at Starr Gate and Hopton Road. Attention here is being given to the points mechanism at North Pier which will be utilised for the North Station extension. In this case point blades are set for trams heading north coming on to the northbound track at North Pier stop.

Meanwhile : Blackpool's

Ghost trams with Ghost passengers. Whilst the regular service trams are packed to capacity over the Bank Holiday weekend, a mixed fleet of mostly empty or near empty heritage cars sail on past waiting crowds along the line - with destinations from Fleetwood to Little Bispham, Bispham and Cabin. The sight of these soulless trams 'On Tour' blithely passing regular stops filled with people does not necessarily make for good pr - particularly when the tram in one case has the capability of serving light rail platform stops. In this case the all white 'ghost tram' 718 - one of four examples modified as part of the light rail upgrade to augment regular service cars in busy periods (or at least that was the expressed intention). Whilst the open boat cars understandably attract the public (in the same way as the promenade landaus) on sunny days - there is seemingly minimal rush to ride on the Balloon cars or 680 - which are running bereft of passengers, other than handfuls of determined enthusiasts. Private hire and groups definitely would seem to be the most revenue earning aspects of the heritage service - and this will certainly extend into the Illuminations season. Below : 'Heritage Tour' to Bispham. Almost empty 718 glides past the Imperial Hotel with its extended centre doors defiantly closed to non tour waiting passengers. There aren't any at this stop, but further south the platforms are full in both directions - its 1430 on Sunday afternoon. Time for 'Extras' on a Bank Holiday Weekend with the sun shining?

A breakdown of ridership through the entire year by car type, weather condition and destination - would allow meaningful due diligence on the optimum pattern of service and output going forward. There is the small matter of wear and usage on electric powered vehicles now approaching ninety years of continuing service. Workshop upkeep and overhauls on a diverse and ever extending fleet comes with increasing capital costs which in turn call for ever increasing revenue. Some trams will be forever popular over others when they appear, visiting open top 31 from Beamish being one example. For the overwhelming majority of Blackpool's visitors however, one old tram is much like another. Outside of Illuminations Tours they are just part of background scenery on the promenade. I suspect far more visitors avail themselves of the landau rides along the front - which really are heritage in every sense.


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