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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Andy Burnham Rules

John Woodman

The reelected Mayor for the Manchester City Region, Andy Burnham, announced this week intention to proceed with bringing the region's franchise bus operations into a publicly controlled network by 2024. A further indicator of the growing importance of electric tram services is also the announcement of plans to develop a new tram network for Middleton. Interestingly Middleton had its own tram system in the early years of electric trams until it was absorbed into the once great Manchester City Tramways during the 1920s. A certain Mr Pilcher, taking over as General Manager of the Manchester system during the following decade, set his face against trams in favour of buses with the last Manchester tram running into its depot during 1949. Ironically it was Manchester which became the first English city to return electric trams to the city's streets resulting in the largest tram network in the UK (to date) under the Metrolink brand.

Below : Another station another tram interchange. Manchester Victoria with mainline trains adjoining Metrolink light rail services. Common in Europe, rare in Britain.

Regaining public control (and not just oversight) of urban public transport is a further move back towards the municipal transport era in pre-Thatcher years. One in which local management of urban bus services ensured a sensitive handling of fares, routes and vehicle standards - responding to community concerns and priorities. As opposed to for profit driven corporate enterprises removed and remote (for the most part) from towns and villages they extract optimum revenue.

Blackpool has been fortunate in being one of the handful of urban transport operators managing to retain public control of its bus (and tram) system. This ensured under successive Council approved (and Board sanctioned) management beholden to the Fylde community they serve. Unique among urban operators Blackpool of course 'hung onto' an electric tramway which now faces a reinvigorated future requiring stringent environmental obligations. Along with Manchester City Region, Blackpool's transport enterprise (a Council owned arms-length business entity) is wedded to tramway development and potential expansion. Equally importantly the town has the mandate to introduce all electric public transport in this decade through replacement of its current diesel buses (even the new environmentally friendly models) with wholly electric powered vehicles.

There is now probability of the town being joined by the City of Preston in tramway operation resulting from persistent hard fought initiatives of Prof. Lewis Lesley and colleagues enabling a return of electric tram services there. The collaboration of the Fylde coast operator in providing test running facilities of the Preston 'Guild Line' prototypes (and much more) in recent years can only benefit both systems. The potential for a UK tram design and development centre in Lancashire looms large during this decade - given the empathy shared by political leaders in Manchester, Preston and Blackpool. This was mooted in earlier Blogs on this site - with focus on brownfield land adjoining the Poulton to Fleetwood railway at Burn Naze. A potential which still could be realised if only the dots were joined up between public and private interests.

Mr Burnham's well deserved success in being reelected to oversee the forward looking regional strategies emanating from Manchester - bodes well for a wider takeup of electric tram (and bus) systems elsewhere in the northwest. One thinks immediately of Liverpool and Merseyside denied in the past two decades of the chance to 'bring back trams' - and the imminent resurgence of another Lancashire conurbation logically linking up through tramtrain investment - Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham. Levelling up England's economic infrastructure is already underway, Albeit still to be conjoined, with electric powered urban transport networks being the pre-eminent flagship of delivery in the decade ahead. At least Blackpool maintains its de facto role in this context; with plaudits for all of the political and executive flag bearers finally securing tangible results along the Fylde coastline. And Thank you Mr Burnham.

Below : Another Station - another tram interchange. Down one level at Dublin Connelly from the mainline railway station to the light rail service terminus - Mrs Woodman shows the way.

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