In spite of the cost overruns and lengthy delay in inauguration Britain's first tramtrain service linking Rotherham to the South Yorkshire tram service at Meadowhall, Sheffield is now finally operational. Tramtrain development has certainly notched up urban rail planners agenda in the past twelve months. There is now an inevitability to this hybrid rail mode gaining 'traction' across the country in the coming decade. Several initiatives are already being talked up or otherwise in the headlights of diverse groups and local authorities. Bristol to Portishead using a freight only rail line being one example, whilst Glasgow is finally taking seriously the need for a rail connection to its growing airport traffic - allowing direct service into the city centre, with tramtrain being a mode under consideration.
On the Fylde coast the opportunity to reconnect Fleetwood utilising the trackbed from Poulton Junction is now subject of exploratory discussions between Wyre Dock Development and Network Rail. Fleetwood Town Council and its dedicated 'Back on Track' committee are focussing on the tramtrain concept introduced by the Wyre Dock regeneration proposals in 2017 as being the preferred objective over heavy rail. A downgrading of the existing railway line to a light rail standard will provide far more flexibility for the needs of companies and communities along the route. It will also (like Blackpool's tramway) allow for seasonal heritage (train) capability.
Allied to the Poulton link and potential for tram train service is the south Fylde railway which lacks capacity beyond one train an hour in its present single track configueration between Kirkham and the miserable Blackpool platform terminus at Waterloo Road. The potential for upgrading Blackpool's light rail coastal line to a joined up tramtrain connector service at the northern end in Fleetwood (then to Thornton and Poulton); and along the south Fylde coastline with interrunning tramtrain service to Kirkham (and even Preston) is a looming possibility in the medium term. Preston of course is pursuing a new light rail scheme, 'The Guild Line' involving a dormant railway also owned by Network Rail with new extensions at both ends including on-street link as far as Preston Station.
Much of this will be very much dependent upon private sector finance and use of new motive power technology which removes need for overhead electric power wires. Advances in tram design and allied power systems that do not require overhead wiring are moving at a rapid pace. One German city is already testing driverless tram operation with a demonstration unit in 2018 - being but one remarkable example.
The environmental pluses of electric power rail and road vehicles have come to the fore and increasingly dominating manufacturers' designs for next generation transport. The days of diesel buses are coming to an end as increased concerns over global warming begin to capture headlines on every continent. Blackpool Transport is already at the forefront of preparing for this new era; with formative proposals for an all-electric bus fleet developed in tandem with bus builder Alexander Dennis and the technologies of Chinese companies already well advanced in electric bus design.
Exciting times loom for the Fylde coast's transport network in the years ahead.