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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Pride & Prejudice

Now that public support is gathering (finally) for improvements to the rail links serving the south Fylde coast towns and communities - it is worth recalling the efforts made by Blackpool's Transport Manager to realise a joined up tram service along the Fylde coast.

Whilst Blackpool Corporation Tramways (and the Blackpool & Fleetwood Tramroad Company) enjoyed heady returns on their investment and tram service operating costs; the line operating south from Blackpool's borough boundary as far as Lytham Cottage Hospital was less fortunate. Year on year it turned in mediocre profits at best, whilst sustaining regular losses on its trams running into Blackpool. Takeover from the company operator at the end of its lease, by Lytham and St Annes councils at the turn of the 1920s began a new chapter in its fortunes. This was signalled by the order for ten new 'Pullman' double deck trams, complete with sumptuous leather bound seating in the lower saloon together with curtains and a decorous interior.

Negotiations with Blackpool Corporation Tramways and its Corporation resulted in the interrunning service between the towns was later extended along the Promenade allowing the Lytham St Annes blue and white trams to run as far north as the Gynn. Here a connection for passengers with the Fleetwood tram service operating from Talbot Road Station was possible.

Builder's formal photograph of the new Lytham St Annes 'Pullman' trams ironically showing 'Talbot Square' on the destination blind. John Woodman Archive

Subsequent purchase by Lytham St Annes of secondhand trams from Preston, Accrington and the short lived Dearne & District company in Yorkshire, did nothing to lessen the annual losses of the now municipal Lytham St Annes tram service. From 1933 radical changes to Blackpool's traditional tram (and motorbus) services saw the resort's transport system undergo rapid modernisation, with introduction of streamline trams and buses in a new corporation green and cream flashy livery. Along with the influx of shoals of new vehicles year on year, came investment in upgrading of the tram infrastructure and extensions to Starr Gate with a new turning loop there. Two street tram lines to Layton (with single track and loop sections) and along Central Drive gave way to new bus services operated by Blackpool's modern streamine Titans.

Awareness that the resort's southern neigbour was struggling with continuing losses and keen to consolidate a coastal trunk tramway running from Fleetwood as far as St Annes; and potentially to Lytham, saw Blackpool make a comprehensive offer to acquire ownership of the ailing tramway and remove at a sweep the losses, as well as underwriting investment in new tram track and replacement of the traditional tram fleet with Blackpool's superb new rail coaches on year round service. A comprehensive and compelling offer was formally tendered to Lytham St Annes Council by Blackpool Transport Department in the mid 1930s.

After mulling over the benefits that would accrue to that borough's exchequer a vote in Council rejected Blackpool's offer through the casting vote of the Lytham St Annes Mayor as Chair. Thus with such parochial snobbery was the logic of integrating an ailing tramway with a modernising neighbour spurned. Lytham St Annes being also courted by Leyland Motors keen to 'bury a tram with a Titan' - their slogan of the time.

War years brought renewed interest in this strategic objective by Blackpool Corporation Transport as part of a report by the same General Manager to his Committee and Council in November 1943. However the prospects of an integrated Fylde coast tramway service saw no change in attitude on an aloof Lytham St Annes Council All this was for nought. The Lytham St Annes transport department became Fylde Transport some four decades further - and its 'Blue Buses' finally became subsumed within the Blackpool Transport Services business before the new millenium.

Having lost its trunk mainline railway services which once saw trains serving Lytham and St Annes (and other stations en route to Preston) - the rump of rail links in this important part of the Fylde has been reduced to a single track line allowing one train an hour to pass through. Growing calls for improvement to this lamentable state of affairs have thus far resulted in consideration of installing a passing loop somewhere between Lytham and St Annes that would aid frequency allowing two trains an hour running from Blackpool South to Preston.

Other voices have been raised in support of running trams or tram train service along the section into Blackpool from St Annes or Lytham as a means of realising the original visionary aims of nearly a hundred years ago - pursued by Walter Luff, Blackpool's Transport General Manager from 1933 to 1954.

That inhabitants to the south of Blackpool have had a traditional and instinctive prejudice against the resort from time immemorial. The conservative voting Fylde constituency and its predecessors rub uneasily up against the now Labour voting preference of Blackpool. However the current state of the country's economic condition, and in particular its realms in the north of England - is one in which pragmatism married to realism should actively support and encourage a comprehensive action plan to bring about the coastal rail connection long sought after by transport visionaries. No matter what colour the fleet is painted, a tram service from running from Fleetwood to Lytham (or even Warton) with modern vehicles unhindered by overhead power supply - facilitating travel in both directions between Blackpool and communities in Cleveleys and Fleetwood - will at some point inevitably emerge from strengthening efforts of groups now lobbying for radical change to the frozen in time mindset imposed during the 1930s. More to follow on tnis issue.

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