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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Busway, railway or no way ?

In a week when the Government's policy on reopening long abandoned railway lines, many dormant since the infamous Beeching closures in the 1960s, attention is being given to the still protected railway link connecting Fleetwood with the rest of the national rail network running from Wyre Dock to Poulton Station. Hopes have been raised that perhaps the line may be finally reactivated to regular passenger use. Local groups such as 'Fleetwood Back on Track' have campaigned effortlessly to bring this about in more recent years.

Fleetwood's MP, Cat Smith, was quick off the mark to send Chris Grayling, Cabinet Minister responsible for Transport, a strong letter of endorsement to bring about an early and positive resolution to Fleetwood's missing rail link. Coincidentally neighbouring constituency MP, Paul Maynard, holds down the Ministerial brief for railways and given proximity of the Poulton to Fleetwood railway to Blackpool North and Cleveleys and Anchorsholme, he no doubt has some familiarity with this particular missing link.

In parallel the intentions of Wyre Dock Development Company which launched its vision for the regeneration of this important site on November 15th - has a stated interest in securing a renaissance of rail travel to Fleetwood that connects with the national railway network. In this case, initiatives are underway to secure private sector partnership which would see a modern tramtrain service running into the £150Million development utilising the protected right of way from Poulton Le Fylde station. Aiding visitor access other than by the current traffic swamped A585 road which everyone driving from Fleetwood, Poulton and Blackpool will be all too aware.

Ongoing consultations with Associated British Ports, supporting the Wyre Dock proposal, also underline the strategic value of a railway connection to Fleetwood. However the possibility of this objective being realised are currently under threat from parallel strategies now aimed at installing a new road crossing over the right way close to the Hillhouses Enterprise Zone. Presently Network Rail have a stated intention to sell off the branch line to Wyre Dock from Poulton where the track junction was very recently disconnected as a result of the electrification upgrade between Preston and Blackpool. Offers to sell the line to the Local Authority or Lancashire County Council - competent Parties with necessary license to acquire railway infrastructure - await a decision. In the event such sale eventualises - the potential for onward disposal of the right of way to third parties would open up a legal route by which a road crossing now being sought would be realised. This would however mean that the strategic objective for reopened rail service to Fleetwood - would be lost forever to future generations.

Proposals by promoters to instate a busway utilising a portion of the current right of way is intended to mitigate objections to complete closure of the line in perpertuity. Sadly the experience of guided (or other) busways in Britain has been less than fulsome on the part of operators, users and communities involved. Nonetheless this scenario is real and apparently being recommended to both Wyre and Lancashire County Councils as a credible if not desirable, solution to aspirations of the Enterprise Zone for a new road link. One which could increase future value of so far undeveloped real estate.

The far less objectionable solution would be for property owners to underwrite a road bridge over the railway right of way achieving the same purpose and without posing fatal threat to the potential for a revitalised rail bound service direct into Fleetwood. This logical option is supported by current Government pronouncements on the socio-economic and investment advantages accruing to communities along reopened branch lines. Perhaps the most notable evidence of this policy has been the tourism growth resulting from the new Borders Railway in Scotland running south to Melrose and Hawick along a former line closed under the Beeching axe. Further extensions to this popular service would result in reopening the connecting link to Carlisle, thus benefitting many more communities.

The loss of the railway service into Fleetwood has been a lingering wound for the town ever since closure. The potential for a dramatic renewed use of the line is actually close at hand. The railway was held in public ownership at the time of closure and remains a public asset under the controlling mandate of Network Rail. Public interest should be paramount before any decision is taken to dispose of the Fleetwood railway link by Network Rail; averting an irrevocable behind closed doors agreement through which this important link for the town's future is abruptly sundered.

Once upon a time trains to Fleetwood from Preston branched off at Poulton to head north to Thornton, Burne Naze, Wyre Dock and Fleetwood. The track connection here was removed (as is the Signal Box) in ongoing electrification work to Blackpool. But the right of way remains running behind the signal box in this view - all the way up to Wyre Dock and the proposed regeneration scheme - Fleetwood Quays.

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