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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

All Electric Blackpool Transport

Government announcement this week of a £50M grant fund towards the UK's first all-electric bus fleet is a sure sign that Blackpool Transport's strategic plans to replace its existing buses with all-electric vehicles on a phased basis - is already ahead of national policy. As the only municipally owned/public owned urban transport system in England - Blackpool enjoys the enviable reputation (now) of continuing with electric tram operation in an era (since the 1960s) when all other UK transport systems replaced their trams with diesel buses. Not even trolleybus operators were immune from the diesel bus transition - Bradford being the last such system.

Ironically or appropriately - Blackpool was also one of the very first towns in Britain to operate electric trams when the Corporation took over the early company line from Cocker Square along the promenade. This privately financed venture used third rail (conduit) prone to swept sand and debris from the beach during high tide and storms - resulting in frequent stoppages and breakdown of the slow moving cars. The opening in 1898 of the all-new interurban electric tramroad between Blackpool's Talbot Road Station and the centre of Fleetwood used overhead power wires with roof mounted trolleypoles on the single deck trams operating the eight mile coastal line. This giant step forward in electric power transmission caused an immediate transformation of Blackpool's conduit line (now under municipal ownership) to similar overhead current collection - and consequent expansion of services to Layton Cemetery, Marton, Squires Gate and along Central Drive to Waterloo Road.

It was not until 1921 that Blackpool's Tramway Department took on the task of running buses (petrol electric initially). Thereafter bus operation grew exponentially over successive decades. In 1960 the Council opted to replace all its street tram services with buses and the last such service running along Dickson Road saw Brush Car 290 operate the final journey north to Fleetwood in October 1963.

1937 built Brush Car 303 upgraded to new control technology (VAMBAC) and silent running bogies -, showing off its lines at Fleetwood Ferry in 1950.

The move to electric power (again) this time away from diesel and petrol engine powered vehicles sees Blackpool yet again at the forefront of epic change - with its plans for replacement of diesel buses with all-electric models - and this time without need for overhead wires. Plans for reopening of the Fleetwood to Poulton railway also envisage the potential for tram-train services which run seamlessly between the present light rail coastal line and railway track. This could extend to the South Fylde railway line being linked to the coastal tramway using similar hydrogen cell powered tram train units - bringing about the vision of 1930s transport management in Blackpool. They were then inclined to acquire the loss making Lytham St Annes municipal transport operation allowing extension of the tram service from Starr Gate (and Squires Gate) into St Annes and beyond. Today that neighbouring bus system is incorporated within Blackpool Transport Services Ltd.

Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde Councils have every right to pursue the Government's financial incentive for all electric public transport services - with this depth of history and examples behind them as pioneers of electric tramway services in the northwest of England. Uniquely still owning and running trams for over 135 years. Go for it.

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