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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Blackpool's Zero Emission Bus Strategy

John Woodman

A detailed report and submission prepared by Blackpool Transport management with the endorsement of Blackpool Council is now accessible online through the BTS website covering issues dealing with the changeover to zero emission buses. In line with national government policy aimed at reduction of vehicle pollutants grants and funding is to be made available to operators moving away from existing carbon use by bus fleets o 100% electric vehicle usage.

Blackpool is preparing to replace its entire bus fleet over the next 3 to 5 years with all electric powered units; together with radical adjustment to the transport company's depot infrastructure at Rigby Road. Complete renewal of the existing bus garage and workshops structure including removal of the existing stores, tram engineering and paintshop buildings is proposed. This will in turn provide larger premises for the new all electric fleet, together with necessary power distribution features. The existing 'Palladium' vehicle fleet will be 'cascaded' to new operators on a phased basis with forward contracts expected from 2023.

Tenders for new all electric bus replacements to the same composition and volume will be made available to pre-qualified manufacturers with double deck and single deck numbers reflecting the existing Palladium fleet makeup. Detailed studies have been made on route requirements with adjustments to vehicle assignments and running times - given electric battery life duration and re-charging options. The Transport Company's very detailed report and submission reflects government environment objectives well into the 21st Century, The report can be read (with some slight redactions reflecting market competition constraints) online on the BTS website,

I can recall three previous occasions when the town's transport strategy became the subject of top level internal debate. Following the end of the Great War the issue over further expansion of tram service within the Borough as opposed to embracing the financially attractive use of motor buses to serve new residential districts and development - saw a bar being laid down terminating further investment in new tramways. An immediate 'victim' being the cancellation of plans to extend the Layton tram service from its terminus outside Layton Cemetery gates, to a point close to Hoo Hill where roads diverged northwards to Bispham and east towards Carleton and Poulton. The issue of relaying the Marton tramway tracks during the 1920s was hotly debated with pro-bus factions in the Council pressing for replacement of the trams by new buses. The fight for bus conversion was lost only to resurface in the aftermath of the Second World War.

During the latter stages of that war the General Manager was required to provide the Council with a report on comparative costs of replacing Marton trams with trolleybuses, This envisaged the tram depot on Whitegate Drive being modified to handle trolleybuses and a route which more or less followed the existing tramway but with a loop added in the town centre. Comparative costs for trolleybuses versus trams and versus bus substitution were laid out for the Council while more or less in the same timeframe, Walter Luff was pursuing trials of 'silent running' trams as a precursor to postwar orders for new trams. The implications being that the good citizens in and around Marton would benefit from revolutionary technology introduced on the existing tramway - with of course the caveat that the entire track (installed in the 1920s) would be replaced. Again the Manager's recommendations were followed and the Marton tram service soldiered on with new track and upgraded trams for a further twelve years. Nothing further was heard about introducing trolleybuses, even though the Corporation had previously secured necessary Parliamentary Powers for trolleybus operation.

The sole tangible evidence of trolleybus possibilities in Blackpool emerged much later in the early 1980s when a transport industry conference and one of its sponsoring companies arranged for a French trolleybus to be tested on Blundell Street under wire. Special overhead wiring was fitted on the existing tram power infrastructure, while the imported demonstrator from a French system, was a hybrid vehicle able to operate away from overhead wires and showed its performance by travelling to the new Pembroke Hotel on the promenade where the conference was being held. Shades of the 1933 demonstration on Gynn Square's third track of the prototype English Electric rail coach - complete with fitted pantograph; to coincide with a Municipal Tramway Manager's conference in June that year.

From time to time reference to trolleybus potential has surfaced in the last century - whenever the future of the promenade tramway has come into question, but the fading away of trolleybuses (at least in the UK) meant there was little appetite to pursue this transport mode beyond speculative talk. So now some seventy years on and the rapid progress made on vehicle battery life is giving way to acceptance of all electric buses - sans overhead power cables - as an evironmentally friendly solution to removing polluting diesel (and hybrid) buses, particularly along dense urban corridors.


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