North Station Development Scheme - Box Ticked
The news that Blackpool's Council had approved the most important phase of the Talbot Gateway scheme was a very big tick in a very big box. Having acquired the 'Wilko' site from its Owners the planning for redevelopment of this key part of the scheme was able to move forward. The resulting design for a combined new hotel, offices and retail within the footprint of the property also includes the tram terminus complete with large new underpass link directly into the Station precinct. While it doesn't give direct access from tram to train it is very much the next best thing that can be achieved given the difference in levels between the railway and adjacent roads.
A £17M new build hotel will replace the abhorrent Wilko property along with a slender and stylish new office structure that adds to the enhanced facade of the Car Park (formerly Talbot Road Bus Station) on the other side of Talbot Road. Given the improved 'look' for this part of the town - with the Council's Offices (aka Bickerstaffe House) and Sainsbury's store it will certainly enhance the immediate environs of the main railway terminal. The station itself is due for some sort of makeover as part of the imminent electrification project for the Blackpool North to Preston line - due for completion in the next two years. Just how big a makeover remains to be seen given its 1930s origins as the Excursion Platforms terminal building, of which little has actually changed. Network Rail have revealed little on this score - nothing new there.
We hope that the tram terminus itself will be given overall cover to passengers arriving and those waiting for their next tram northbound or southbound. Understandable concerns have been voiced already on the limited space within the trams for luggage bearing passengers - given the full loading consistently experienced at busy times of the year when even two conductors struggle to collect fares and control more passengers accessing the tram when full with standing loads. Whilst Manchester and other systems can handle coupled units, Blackpool is limited to single cars throughout the line. I suspect some form of staffing presence will be essential at the Station terminus to assist with loading and unloading. This is nothing new. The former tram stops at Central Station and North Station in yesteryear had special Inspector's 'cabins' where a permanent 'controller' was at hand to aid crews with the loading passengers and despatching of cars. The same could be said for the Pleasure Beach loop terminus and at Cleveleys - where ironically two seperate tram shelters served North Station bound trams and Pleasure Beach and Starr Gate (and Squires Gate) services. Just how tram stops and signage at the present shelters clearly defines which trams are serving North Station and those passing directly along North Pier remains to be seen. This is a particularly acute issue given the total lack of real time information signage on the system (other than inside the trams and newest buses of BTS). Just how and why the upgraded line has got away with NOT having real time electronic information at each stop is something of a mystery. Below : North Station Tram Terminus 1960s style : the Duty BCT Inspector on hand to assist with passenger loading on to the waiting Brush rail coach and holding back traffic to allow another reversing tram to regain the northbound track on the crossover opposite the Odeon Cinema. Blackpool buses on the 15A northbound and 3A southbound show off their rears. Note the luggage laden Austin Somerset in the lower image. North Station itself is just out of shot to the right. Will we see Duty Inspectors at the new North Station tram station (but without traffic to contend with).
Both Images Copyright : John Woodman