The Fylde Coast's Railway Orphans
As work on electrifying the railway line from Preston to Blackpool North with its intermediate stations at Kirkham and Wesham, Poulton Le Fylde and Layton is now well underway - questions over the links to the south Fylde communities at Lytham, Ansdell, St Annes, and Blackpool's seaside 'halts' at Squires Gate, Pleasure Beach and Blackpool South terminus are becoming more relevant, and more heated. Prominent voices have been raised lately in support of an initial loop at Lytham Station allowing trains to pass on the extended single track running all the way from Kirkham to Blackpool South which means only one train an hour is possible. Addition of a loop at Lytham could allow a thirty minute frequency. Scheduling presently of the present parsimonious hourly service also prevents timely connections at Preston to Virgin Trains to London in the morning - adding insult to injury for South Fylde users.
A study in contrasts. Community Rail's smart information signage at Blackpool South and the litter strewn trackside which greets? travellers using this bleak excuse for a railway terminus sited within half a mile of Blackpool's beaches. What a way to greet visitors arriving for the first time (by train).
Several options have been placed in view over the past decade for a possible tramtrain operation on some of the South Fylde right of way which would allow dual tracking and tramtrains linking with Blackpool's light railway at either Squires Gate, Starr Gate or possibly at the Pleasure Beach station. Other ideas focus on the potential for extending Blackpool's trams up Squires Gate Line to serve the new Enterprise Zone and commercial businesses alongside the airport, as well as the new Energy Technology College now nearing completion on the former airport terminal site.
Possibly such schemes will take on an dynamic? of their own once the Blackpool North electrification is completed; along with the tram extension which will serve the railway station at that point. Even further extending the tramway all the way through Layton as far as Victoria Hospital (and incidentally serving Stanley Park and Blackpool's popular Zoo along the way) are credible options which should be on someone's drawing board if the Fylde coast is ever to have a coordinated transport strategy for the 21st Century (other than buses). I am not taking bets on this.
The long dreaded 'Pacers' still shuttle on hourly duties between one dead end terminus at Colne and the depressingly bleak Blackpool South 'station' - if you can call it that.
At least the south Fylde coast communities have a railway service - however spurious. Pity Fleetwood and Thornton which bear witness to overgrown railway tracks dormant since cessation of services many decades previously. The preserved right of way almost to Fleetwood and its potential reawakening as a linked rail service to Poulton (at a bare minimum) is within reach. Here too increasing business investment around the Enterprise Zone at the former ICI Hillhouses industrial site, along with the usual rash of house building on adjacent land - strengthens the case for renewed due diligence on reestablishing a decent rail service that links Fleetwood by train.
Here again tramtrains without need for overhead electrification but using new energy technology represent topical options. Whilst the aims of the local railway society to run vintage diesel units as a heritage service on a segment of the former railway solely for seasonal visitors have helped keep alive this line's potential - the obvious and ultimate objective has to be a fast and efficient year round operation drawing on private sector partners (and investment). Both modes can equitably co-exist and indeed benefit each other, with a railway museum at Burn Naze adjoining the present station or in proximity - and tramtrain service running as far as Wyre Dock or even onto the current Freeport property; which is a few minutes walk to Lord Street and Fleetwood's commercial centre, as well as the existing tram stop at Fisherman's Walk.
In both instances there is absolute need for joined up teamwork involving three local authorities and the economic drivers they are pursuing. The Fylde's disjointed politics have forever bedevilled rational planning and ability to present a strong/strongest case at regional and national level. One only has to look twelve miles south across the Ribble Estuary to see the integrated benefits of Merseyrail with electrified services and high frequency operations connecting Liverpool, Southport, Birkenhead and the Wirral with Warrington and many other intermediate communities. A salient example of how connected power (political) and administration actually brings about massive transport benefits. One can similarly in the same breath point to Greater Manchester and the enormous advantages of that growing light rail network. Years in the making but from small acorns (remember the PicVic origins of Metrolink?) grow.