After an absolutely horrendous journey from Layton to Manchester - the train was over 50 minutes late from Blackpool North just five minutes up the line, and the two carriage affair felt very much like being in some hand me down rolling stock on a rural line in the fringes of the Carpathian Mountains stopping at every possible station en route - I finally disembarked at the newly redeveloped Victoria Station in Manchester (for the first time possibly since the steam age). This was last Thursday.
Quite a revelation. A very nice touch being the retained Edwardian (or is it late Victorian?) mosaic tiled facade on the original terminal structure facing into the concourse. A sharp contrast with the new vaulting glazing erected over what is now a tram and railway interchange where one simply walks from one platform to another to await the next Metrolink service to wherever. No crossing roads, or dealing with traffic, drunks and beggars. However our arrival on the Metrolink platform managed to precisely coincide with a covey of arresting officers manhandling a transgressor off the tram platform to points unknown.
The short tram journey into Piccadilly was smooth and silent. No rumbling wheels or clattering bogies, no squealing of steel rims on curves (and there are plenty in the central district) - total quiet inside and out. What a contrast with the obviously malfunctioning wheel sets and or rail which marrs the Blackpool operation. The trams themselves are somewhat narrower than the Blackpool design but light and airy in their layout and internal features. A helpful feature are the destination and time of arrival electronic signs at all the stops providing immediacy of information on when one's next tram is expected (or not as the case may be) - something blatantly missing from the Blackpool light rail upgrade contract to the present day.
This is what a tram and train interchange actually looks like - Manchester Victoria.
Temporary terminus on the newbuild Manchester City Centre crossing at Exchange Square - with a host of Metrolink staff on hand to help visitors with tickets and tram connecting services. Note the electric real time information signage. Any chance of this appearing at Blackpool North tram terminus?
One niggling factor is of course that all the smart new 120 strong trams which are the backbone of the Manchester network, were built in Germany with not one screw or bolt originating from UK sources. At around £1.5 million a pop, this large capital contract has to be in the order of £180M - £200M for new trams alone. Given that I had just ridden on a decrepit train from Blackpool operated by the UK subsidiary (or offshoot) of Deutsche Bahn, with all of its profits (and possibly some of the subsidies) benefitting our German cousins and pensioners - it is just a tiny bit irksome to realise the UK manufacturing wherewithal in trams and rail manufacture has been allowed to dissipate out of British ownership. Not overnight of course, but through gradual erosion and political disinterest (at least in the north of England) in the country's manufacturing resources. Not for much longer.
No question the Metrolink rolling stock does a seriously enhanced job, looks good and sounds even better. The sight of new tram rail and overhead gleaming copper wire marking the progress of the newest city centre tram route was equally impressive as it nears completion. Manchester throbs with commercial and economic success - mobility scooters would appear to have been banned or at least they were not in evidence on our walkabout. Hardly surprising the city is attractive to conference organisers and cultural events. We saw 'A Streetcar Named Desire' (what else?) in a packed matinee with a compelling performance.
Great performance of this classic play - no trams involved however - other than an initial reference to a New Orleans trolley route in the opening lines and the occasional clanging of a trolleycar bell by way of 'sounds off'. I obviously dressed down for the day.....
Blackpool has a lot more to do to become credible again as a primary conference venue - clean streets, decent restaurants (although we have some brave venues), a clear out of the town centre dross cluttering doorways of seemingly ever open drinking establishments. The sad 'ART' signage plopped in front of Bickerstaffe House - says it all. Apparently installed to draw visitors to the Grundy Gallery - where a sparse and tardy display of neon lighting and an even sparser representation of early Illuminations neon designs is intended to impel public wider public interest, if not appreciation in the subject. I think not. The display on offer could quite easily have been collated and installed by students from the B&FC or local college at minimal cost or expense. Instead what had at one time actually been the town's real public Art Gallery is now a platform for transient displays of a minimalistic nature originating under auspices of the 'Art Council' - a body so distant from local realities here, it might as well be on Mars. I am sure it is.
To conclude: our day out in Manchester following an excellent meal very close to the Edwardian gothic pile which is the City's Town Hall - finished with an equally abysmal train ride courtesy of Deutsche Bahn's UK business. Yet another two car train packed to the gills at Oxford Road station (this was almost nine at night). With equally depressing rolling stock probably originating in the days of British Railways and subjected to various cosmetic makeovers as it passed through the hands of several franchise operators until it ended up (naturally) on services into Blackpool. An attempt to sleep through the journey was almost successful. A friendly taxi driver at Blackpool North made up for this train ride which is best forgotten. I will be dealing with the electrification saga and Network Rail in due course - leaving no rant unspoken.