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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Lancashire - Changes Forecast

Northwest Connectivity in an earlier age : Fast voyage from Fleetwood to Barrow (with a full load it seems).

There is a plentiful amount of news involving change both at national, regional and local level as we enter the second half of 2020. Whilst the expected continuance of threat to health from the corona virus pandemic dominates daily headlines and media at all levels - the imminence of the country's finally removing constraints on its sovereignty by withdrawal from the European Union on January 1, 2021 is a further seismic development.

The surging trend towards electric vehicles far away from petrol and diesel powered transportation continues to gather pace. Financial investors clearly placing faith in the likes of Tesla even at a time when vehicle purchase (and usage) is in declining.

Sticking with transportation; ever frequent pronouncements of UK government endorsement for rail investment, and in particular in the north of England are putting pressure on local politicians to embrace larger regional bodies. The County Palatinate of Lancashire with its seemingly myriad councils and districts faces something of a conundrum as investment in railway connectivity aims at bringing communities in lockstep on a regional basis.

Initial discourse has begun this month on realignment of local government boundaries with the aim of simplifying the mosaic of fiefdoms (political and otherwise) which make up the northwest of England. Hopes rest on at least west Lancashire Councils coming together to form a single Combined Authority embracing both Lancaster, Ribble Valley, Wyre, Fylde and Blackpool - attracting large government financial underpinning. A total of fifteen Councils plus the County make up Lancashire which also of course has both Liverpool and Manchester seperately managing a swathe of communities in their respective environs.

Linked to the inevitable reorganisation of local authority boundaries is the strengthening of transport infrastructure, in particular rail. Movement towards distinctive and integrated regions is being further enhanced by clamour for reopened railway lines for passenger services not just in this country. In France the city of Nantes in the Pays de Loire region has announced support for new tramtrain operations to the north and south of that city, as part of wider railway infrastructure investment. It is noteworthy that Nantes was the first French city to reintroduce electric trams in the 1980s and now has a progressively enlarging network - one of many such urban schemes throughout that country. Likewise in the Netherlands an integrated tramtrain network (Randstadrail) has emerged in the past two decades bringing about fast, clean and efficient connections for large and small towns.

In England a private sector scheme the 'Great Southwest Plan' has costed and quantified the benefit of new rail services on at least four reopened lines closed since Beeching - and the upgrading of a heritage line to scheduled passenger service (Taunton - Minehead). Blackpool with Wyre and Fylde partnering councils is grappling with how best to improve railway connections and service frequency - in conjunction with Blackpool's own light rail aspirations on the Fylde coastline. We (Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust and Wyre Dock Development) published a year back suggested objectives by which tramtrain and rail investment can be fused together for the benefit of communities throughout the Fylde - delivering enhanced 'green' services that bring together the Fylde coastline with the education, training and skills centres of Preston and Lancaster. Feeding into and from both the HS2 (north-south) and newly announced (all electric) HS3 east west arteries .

Topping all of this is recent decisions of rolling stock builders in the UK to embark on hydrogen fuel powered trains and tramtrains to replace diesel units across the board. Whilst these broad based and parallel developments will take time to be fully realised (or even partially fulfilled) - there is no doubt that change of a sweeping nature will transform our lives in the next decade or two. And about time is the shared sentiment of many. A new body - 'Northern Transport Acceleration Council' will have its inaugural meeting next month - to shape acceptance for coordinated rail (and road) improvements beyond the usual tinkering around the edges approach of governments in past decades. The chickens of the 'Northern Powerhouse' philosophy are finally coming home - to a station stop near you.

Below : Lancashire railways in the 1920s - even Knott End had a connecting service to Garstang whilst Southport travellers could entrain for Preston and Liverpool.

This was at the height of British industry's strengths - with the County Palatinate enjoying railway connectivity par excellence.

Trams and tramtrain technologies will most certainly be assured of an enhanced role in the 21st Century - with ample lessons of a practical (and political) nature being scrutinised in Europe and around the world (even the car friendly United States). That Blackpool can punch above its weight in forward thinking as a light rail operator under public ownership is testimony to the town's three centuries of electric powered transport - unique in Britain.

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