Next Monday Blackpool Council will be invited to approve financing £6.4M to top up the total capital spend required for completion of the tram extension from the Promenade to North Station. This involves street running along Talbot Road where relocation of utilities is already underway. Plans for the new line to open in 2019 will require removal of the first generation tramway infrastructure embedded under the road surface from Talbot Square all the way to Dickson Road where the new tramway will veer to the left onto land currently occupied by the Wilkos store and car park which is set to be demolished later this year.
This momentous vote will turn the clock back from a decision in the late 1950s to do away with Blackpool's then existing street tram services which ran to Squires Gate from Manchester Square along the length of Lytham Road (closed 1961) : the Marton tram service from Talbot Square to Royal Oak (closed 1962); and the original Tramroad Company line from Fleetwood to Blackpool's railway station on Talbot Road (closed 1963). Acknowledgement that urban rail transport entirely free of polluting emissions and using entirely low floor vehicles has finally come of age in the UK. Despite the fact that this country lags far behind its continental neighbours in fully embracing light rail and urban tram operation in towns and cities.
Modern tram station - modern tram - old city February 2018. Ghent, Belgium and De Lijn's newest low floor units have made a monumental change from the high floor PCC cars which they replaced in the past few years. Photo Peter Watts
The priority of making town centres enhanced public realm with deterrents to vehicle users minimising travel by car within central districts. I am travelling to Oxford this week to take a look at the new restrictions on car and private vehicle use in that city's streets where punitive charges for on-street parking steer cars into new car parks away from principal retail and business area. Buses remain the principal public transport mode with continuous streams of urban and long distance operators getting priority if not exclusive access into the heart of Oxford. There has been talk of trams but this is probably a still a long way off, the city (like Cambridge), never made it beyond horse tram operation - but what would you expect of a town that was birth to the Morris Motor company - and is now the main production source for the Mini ?
Oxford's links to London and the main airports of Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted and Luton all have frequent and comfortable express coach services = whilst London is reached via the M40/A40 route through two competing luxury coach services with high frequency operation (15 minutes) from the busy central bus station. Chiltern Railways operate equally high frequency trains from Oxford via Bicester (Village) and a dedicated new Park and Ride Station near Kidlington - to London Marylebone, with the latest and most modern rolling stock. Services to London Paddington via Didcot and Reading are equally busy plus regular long distance trains to Birmingham and the north. Quite a transport hub in Oxford has emerged in recent years.
A Wright bus with bold line branding in the heart of Oxford on City3 service
Another grey themed fleet branding - but for Oxford Brookes University. A BROOKESbus.....
Any chance of a BFCbus coming along on the service to Bispham ?
Blackpool still has a long way to go to emulate the lessons learned whether in Oxford or tram focussed cities like Manchester (which still has shoals of buses cluttering its centre). But the vote next week will enlighten a new dawn for this town in the 21st Century. It is definitely a harbinger of things to come. A Fylde coastal tramway linking Lytham (and dare I say Warton and Freckleton) with its neighbours north all the way to Fleetwood. A new line to Victoria Hospital - a major employment site as well as being the Fylde's principal healthcare site with expanding specialist facilities. Talbot Road already is traversed by over six bus services along the corridor to Layton Square where trams once terminated having traversed the entire length of Talbot Road (originally New Road). Continuing the line directly east from Layton will benefit residents along the entire route as well as schools and Stanley Park quite apart from the importance for visitors and staff to Victoria Hospital.
And then there is the small matter of reconnecting the Fylde coast's other important town - Fleetwood by rail to its hinterland. Emerging proposals for massive development along the Fleetwood river frontage and active plans to create a thriving technology and industrial centre at the Hillhouses Enterprise Zone will benefit enormously from a new fast and frequent railbound service that links with the railway at Poulton. Whether this is heavy rail or tram train operation is moot at this time. New energy technologies being applied to interurban tram development in Europe and China indicate that the traditional overhead power sourcing style from the dawn of electricity (excepting conduit of course) may have reached its limits - at least as far as trams are concerned. This is a new era for Blackpool, and definitely a seismic change for its long embrace of tram operation. The town has now a bus system par excellence (except for the scandalous state of the shelters); with a total makeover soon to be completed by 2020. Relocation of Blackpool Transport's long held base at Rigby Road to a new purpose built bus garage and headquarters is in the offing with consequent changes to the Rigby Road and Lytham Road area now badly in need of renaissance.
All of this is not a question of if - but when. The tide starts to turns next week.