Above : A quartet of Belfast's modern 'McCreary' trams built by English Electric in Strand Road, Preston in an order shared with Service Motor Works, Belfast. Not quite the type of tram envisaged nearly a century later but at least all-British.
This British company (Trampower) has persisted in efforts to develop a UK designed and built tram for new lines in the northwest. Its determination is finally bearing results with recent approval by Preston City Council for an initial test and demonstration line in 2017. Utilising a redundant railway line (sounds familiar?) the company has been funded by Preston Council to trial its latest low floor articulated tram design.
It should be remembered that the company began practical development of its foray into a lesser cost UK tram design through the pro-active involvement of Blackpool Council and Blackpool Transport. Testing of new power bogies and two versions of its early design were a feature on the promenade line. Following a fire in the cab testing was summarily halted and the company removed the demonstrator from Rigby Road Depot to storage in the Preston area. A new model was subsequently developed and this will feature in Preston's entry into light rail - in this case with a British company taking a lead role; avoiding the expensive closed shop of European manufacturers.
Whilst the trial operation is not for public use - it should demonstrate the competence of UK companies (and funders) in realising further light rail revival in this country utilising British suppliers and labour.
Of course it is also entirely appropriate that Preston, home to Britain's largest tram building company, (English Electric) may well emerge as the first new light rail operator in a post Brexit market. EU regulations governing procurement involving public sector funds will no longer apply from 2019 following the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union (this is an assumed deadline) This makes a strong incentive for innovative companies and entrepreneurs to enter the light rail, trolleybus and railway equipment market with domestic manufacturing and assembly. The Northern Powerhouse absolutely favours such expansion. I attended a Ministerial briefing in Burnley last week where the Chair of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Edwin Booth, and the Shadow Chair of the Lancashire Combined Authority (Blackpool Council Leader Simon Blackburn) all spoke to the new economic opportunities for this part of the Northwest - with strong central government backing. Blackpool Transport will be affected by these emergent developments. It is now anticipated that BTS will move to a new operational centre elsewhere in the town; vacating its home since 1922 at Rigby Road within the next three years. The light rail/tram service will continue to be maintained from Starr Gate (for the forseeable future).
Whilst no formal pronouncements have yet been made the heritage transport element predictably is likely to utilise all or part of the existing tram depot structure whilst retaining the now heritage workshop buildings. Although such decisions at Council level await further discussion and funding of an approved business plan. In the meantime Network Rail are now beginning work on overhead electrification of the Blackpool North to Preston line, starting at Preston with a two year deadline in view. Times they are a changing (and not just locally it seems).
Image : John Woodman Archive