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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Trampower in Blackpool - 3 Generations

The umbilical chord which has continuously linked the progressive ambitions of the solitary UK tram design build company 'Trampower' has so far extended to three designs utilising Blackpool's tramway. From a standing (literally) start with a mockup module of the company's proposed design placed in display at Rigby Road Works - to the current unit presently stored in the depot courtesy of Blackpool Transport Services Blackpool and Trampower have at least been seen to assist each other on a practical basis.

Rigby Road welcomes the initial Trampower design. John Woodman Archive

Whilst some observers may indeed poo poo the efforts of this wholly British enterprise in its ambition to kickstart a UK tram design build operation, ideally sited in the north of England, there is a consistency in these efforts, aided and abetted to some degree by the involvement of the Council-owned transport operation headquartered on Rigby Road. Understandably the cartel? of ever decreasing tram building firms competing for significant new orders in Europe find any new entrant unwelcome at best. It is notable that in Poland and the Czech Republic new-start tram design firms satisfy their local markets to a significant degree, whilst competing for orders in other countries.

The UK which of course at one time saw Blackpool's single line as the solitary tram operation in the entire country - has had its emerging domestic market swallowed up by imported products from German and Spanish companies or the conglomerates with factories based there. This has stunted the emergence of a British tram design and build enterprise with its valuable manufacturing, engineering and technical skills. A consequence of this is the continuing reliance on imported light rail equipment subsidised directly or indirectly by UK Government policies supported by local authorities.

Trampower Mark 2 powers its way through Thornton Gate on a demonstration run to Fleetwood. Image : John Woodman

The very last newbuild trams for a UK operator were delivered to (wait for it) Blackpool Transport in its then municipal format with the eight 'Centenary' class trams built at Blackburn by East Lancashire Coachbuilders (ELC) and running equipment jointly designed and built with Blackpool Transport's engineering involvement. This was of course was over four decades previously. The eight cars were subsequently given mid-life heavy overhauls to emerge in varying degrees of external bodywork design. Two such examples (642 and 648) fortuitously are retained in the Heritage operation whilst the prototype (641 of 1984) is on display in static form at the Pleasure Beach tram loop.

A glimpse of newly delivered prototype Centenary Car 641 inside Rigby Road Depot in 1984 fresh from the Blackburn factory of East Lancashire Coachbuilders. This tram is on display at the Pleasure Beach loop - albeit in modified and sponsored form. Image : John Woodman Archive

Trampower's initiative in Preston supported by that City Council and other public bodies is now underway with a redundant heavy rail line to be recycled? as main element in a new light rail service for which Trampower with Eric Wright Group Civil Engineering - are working together. The sample unit for this line, albeit subject to further testing and or redesign, currently is stored at Blackpool's Tram Depot awaiting the time when it can be assembled and rolled out on the 'Guild Line'. Importantly this enterprise deserves widest support as it is intended to lead on to establishment of a wholly owned UK tramcar facility capable of competing with the diminishing cluster of multinationals carving up the European market between them - with not a whiff of British content in their products. Excepting of course the vinyl dots on Metrolink cars and similar exterior doodles on Blackpool Council's light rail fleet.

Post Brexit Britain and especially the north of England needs to get a grip on railway and tram equipment sourcing once freed of the rigid procurement process insisted on by Brussels - and which in turn intentionally or not, deters and depresses any UK start ups in this sector. Unlike, Poland, Germany, France and even smaller markets such as the Czech Republic and Romania - where new trams are built in factories employing their nationals using as far as possible suppliers of the same ilk. Trampower is definitely not at the level of a Siemens or Alstom and may never attain the cummulative and evolving technologies of these major firms, but at least they are a making credible start and with political and business support have the chance of becoming a supplier to expanding lines in the UK market, as well as (hopefully) emergent new systems. Its high time a British firm (or consortia) was primed to put on the market a robust series of tram / light rail designs that employ UK labour and sustain at least one community.

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