Manchester certainly does things in style and is the epitomy of a go ahead northern city - providing all of the infrastructure and hospitality assets needed to attract visitors from around the world, but without the intensity of London. One thing which London doesn't have in its centre are of course trams. Whilst that southern offshoot - Croydon has installed a tram network within its immediate reach, Manchester has the real thing running through the commercial heart of its central district - and of course to the ever expanding Manchester International Airport. What Manchester doesn't have are tram drivers falling asleep at the controls while operating in service. The BBC News online today cited quite apalling evidence of speeding trams and drivers not able to exercise appropriate safety measures on Croydon's trams.
Having experienced the worst fatal accident on a British tramway for over sixty years (Glasgow was the last major tragedy) - you would have thought management of the Croydon operation would have rushed through a crash programme to eliminate all risk and certainly given serious attention to driver training renewal. Sitting in a semi reclining condition within an all enclosed module for hours on end pushing levers and buttons can be come a mind numbing experience, especially if a driver has arrived for work not having had a solid period of rest beforehand. Whereas standing and manually racheting up a controller handle and deftly swivelling an airbrake in a far less user friendly tramcab of former times, meant there was (and is) little if any chance of a driver 'nodding off' at his controls. As far as I am aware there has not been an example of a mishap through this human failing on Blackpool's system.
Paying a quick visit to Manchester this week I took the opportunity to traverse the new second city crossing and in so doing admire pointwork and track layout in narrow and very busy city centre streets. The new tram stops were everything that Blackpool is missing : smart signage, real time arrival and destination - easy to use ticket vending equipment (all clean and devoid of grafitti) no litter, no weeds, no dirty glazing, no missing panels, even advertising was attractive and smartly displayed.
Four track station layout at St Peters Square - all spotless with professionally design shelters for this one location. A far cry from the budget hand me downs in Blackpool.
The trams likewise were spotless inside and out - probably as they should be given their relative newness. The only notable sound emanating from the trams was the frequent 'hooter' warning other road users and pedestrians of imminent passage. Just a low rumble of the wheels over track if you are in immediate vicinity of the tram. None of the incessant clatter or seeming ironmongery hidden under the bodywork ,as in Blackpool which must have the noisiest light rail vehicles in the country. In Manchester's case it has quite evidently a high level of professionalism at work in the design, installation and maintenance of both track and vehicles. And especially the on street operation with heavy traffic to contend with; unlike Blackpool's reserved track system which one would have thought could have a superior standard of finish.
The Second City Crossing - Exchange Square Station - decent seating, spotless amenities and total care for the passengers.
My visit was all too brief but sufficient to immediately note these differences for the record. One hopes that Blackpool's pending on street tram extension to North Station will take lessons from its northern neighbour before tearing up Talbot Road and subjecting the town to more of the same. When it comes to trams Manchester definitely has the edge. I never thought I would say that - how times have moved on.
Real time information at all station stops - reliable and clearly visible. The cautionary notice refers to the old £5 notes not longer being accepted on the system after May. Images : John Woodman