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Goodbye to the semaphores

January 13, 2016

 

A constant reminder of railway history is expected to disappear when work begins on the track realignment into Blackpool's North railway terminal during 2016.   Network Rail require closure of the station entirely for a period of up to six months while the platforms and tracks are relaid to conform to the requirements of new rolling stock running into Blackpool from 2017/18.   This includes the possibility of the link line from Preston via Kirkham and Poulton Le Fylde being electrified for which purpose road bridges over the entire line have been heightened to accommodate overhead cabling and supporting fixtures.

 

Whilst Blackpool North's once extensive track system and platform capacity has been substantially reduced since closure of the original terminal building, the goods yards, locomotive power depot and carriage sidings - it is still able to handle peak season services with little problem.   Direct services to London Euston have been introduced on a very modest basis in 2015 but it is hoped that this till increase in frequency with electrification and short running of trains into Blackpool by the operator of any new West Coast mainline services into Euston.

 

The terminal building is likely to remain very much in its present form which dates from the 1930s when it was constructed to handle the enormous volume of excursion trains being operated to Blackpool both pre-war and postwar.   With demolition of the main terminus - itself a travesty - the excursion platforms thus handled all services, with an inconvenient and indirect access for passengers which remains to the present day.   Blackpool Council's plans for the immediate area and its redevelopment are partly fulfilled in partnership with Modus Development - a Manchester based company.   The overall project for 'Talbot Gateway' envisages incorporation of a tram extension running up to (if not adjoining) the railway station - something normal in many of Europe's light rail and tram systems.   However problems over existing structures inhibit, if not block, such an interchange for light rail and heavy rail at Blackpool North and are so far unresolved. 

 

Looking east from the Blackpool North station approach tracks.  The signal box can just be seen in the distance behind the nearest signal gantry.

 

What is certain is the resignalling requirement on the entire line to Preston will involve replacement of the semaphore system still controlling all train operation as far as Preston itself.  Thus the traditional signals and their gantries will become heritage pieces - some of which are expected to find their way into local museums and possibly private collections.   The dates for this work have yet to be announced but 2016 will see removal of this familiar infrastructure.  One hopes that platform canopies and external aspects of the station terminal will be much improved on as a part of this redevelopment.  The excellent redesign of the former Talbot Road Bus Station building with its new cladding and lighting features is an example of what is possible on existing concrete structures.   Complete removal of the 'Wilko' building is even more desirable in improving this key 'gateway' into the town's central district.  One can hope. 

Images :  John Woodman

 

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