As the end of Blackpool's 2017 season looms in early November, preparatory work is well advanced on the transport front to take benefit of 'downtime' in the annual calendar. Blackpool North Station's platforms have been reduced to four with groundwork already well advanced on both sides of the approach tracks - and installation of electric overhead pylons and gantrys inexorably heading westward from Poulton Station. Once train service is replaced by buses from Blackpool to Preston - a faster pace of work on completing this infrastructure will ensue. The section from Preston to Kirkham will be completed first, followed by Kirkham to Poulton and then the line into Blackpool North. Below : Yesteryear trains today - Blackpool North 2017.
Blackpool Transport are gearing up to provide an intensive rail replacement bus service to Preston from both Blackpool North as well as the hourly schedule running along the south Fylde line from Blackpool South to Kirkham and thence to Preston Station. A new fleet of 35 Alexander Dennis double deck buses have been made ready for their immediate role on rail replacement duties - complete with additional luggage space in the lower deck during this initial assignment.
Smart Light Rail passenger infrastructure that provides a positive image and brand for Manchester's ever growing Metrolink system - Exchange Square Station built 2016
Questions over the amount of time needed to cover the railway schedule to Preston are already being raised in the media, with 65 minutes being allocated to a journey over the full route, as opposed to 20 - 25 minutes by train. The segment from Poulton to Kirkham on the A585 is being particularly queried - during peak hours when queues of vehicles are lined up to negotiate this exceptionally busy stretch of commuter traffic. Allocation of twenty minutes for buses covering this section is deemed to be seriously deficient - and it will be interesting (for observers) to witness the operation in real time.
Blackpool's dilapidated passenger shelters on full public display (and use) - sadly typical of many bus stops around the system. This is at Bristol Avenue/Moorpark Library.
Work on installing the tramtrack from North Pier junction through Talbot Square, up Talbot Road to the current site of the Wilko property is expected to begin immediately after the Illuminations. Utility and other infrastructural planning has already taken place with expectation that this contract will begin from the Promenade working east. Demolition of the Wilko structure in its entirety has still to begin - the start date is not known but it is suspected this will commence after the Christmas sales period. Traffic diversions in and around this already key area of the town centre are likely to be extensive and cause headaches for Blackpool Transport drivers on the many bus services traversing Talbot Road, Abingdon Street and Dickson Road - which in fact is most BTS routes. Whilst the railway infrastructure work is planned for completion by the end of March next year - the tramway extension will inevitably require a far longer timeframe, even though the distance covered is relatively short.
Postwar image of Marton tramway showing the level of patching up along the all street route as evidence of need for a fast Council decision on whether to relay the tracks or convert the service to bus operation. The decision to rebuild the line was carried by a small margin in 1949 following trials of newly equipped trams 208 and 303 with resilient wheels - and also advanced electric controls (in 208) proving the superiority of modern tram equipment in service. 208 is shown below this image.
Vambac equipped Railcoach 208 pauses on Waterloo Road Railway Bridge to unload passengers before heading to the terminus at Royal Oak at the bottom of the slope.
Photo : John Woodman
This will be the first major street tramway construction in the town since relaying the all street Marton tram service in the late 1940s - over sixty-five years ago. That was at a time when road traffic and car usage was relatively sparse compared to today. A contractor has been appointed to take on the project and no doubt the two additional trams ordered to augment the current fleet will shortly appear at Starr Gate. Given the large numbers of travellers arriving and departing at Blackpool North (many with luggage and children in tow) the platform staffing and information signage at the new tram terminal will be critically important. The sparse elementary provision currently along the existing route harks back to an earlier age and a far cry from the Manchester (and other) light rail resources - for passengers.
Certainly the next year will provide a constant trove of news and developments impacting on Blackpool (and the Fylde's) transport features.