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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Inching Ahead - to Blackpool North and more

John Woodman

Having sampled the interchange between lower ground level trams and upper level railway termini at Dublin Connelly I very much look forward to seeing the reverse in action at Blackpool North. Both of these not dissimilar interchanges feature scissors crossovers (for the tram service). One hopes that travellers bringing their luggage between the two modes (in Blackpool) will at least benefit from being under cover throughout. The sight of families and others struggling to traverse their way between Blackpool North precinct and the tramway at North Pier - encountering noisome sounds from a certain drinking den, as well as examples of 'pan handling' characters en route is something that hardly engenders a positive image of the resort (entering or leaving - by rail). Quite the reverse.

The ability to walk on board a clean waiting tram within Talbot Gateway terminus (if that's what it is to be called) and avoid the now loathsome experience of a rundown Talbot Road is a praiseworthy development for visitors and residents alike. Understandably having to close off traffic (of all kinds) behind the former 'WIlko' site whilst tunnelling work gets underway is creating something of a nightmare affect for anyone arriving by rail, or seeking to catch a bus in proximity to the railway station - or simply driving past. No doubt this will only become even worse as the illuminations bring their own set of road closures and bad tempers.

One hopes that it will all be worth it. The impressive new hotel structure facing on to Talbot Square (below) provides a sense of the positive impact of modern development = as opposed to piecemeal reconstruction of tired and mostly decrepit buildings in the town's central districts. Steel framework already erected on the former 'Wilko' site already brings a sense of a modernising Blackpool at work - whilst demolition of old structures in and around Topping Street and adjoining area offers even further evidence of widening town centre renewal.

Below : A stellar classic structure imposing a modern style on Talbot Square complete with new tram tracks leading east towards the new Talbot Gateway development and Blackpool North.

It needs to be remembered that Blackpool is the smallest Local Authority in the UK to 'own and operate' a light rail system. The need for external funding for large capital projects and finite local expertise in delivering significant new infrastructure (road or rail) means heavy reliance on private sector contractors. The days when Blackpool's Corporation workmen would appear to renew and replace tramrail are well and truly over (sadly). There may well be a case for joined up collaboration between northwest operators and public bodies to share (and contribute) to a regional transport infrastructure setup with both equipment, skills and core teams able to take on capital investment expansion and renewal programmes. I am thinking particularly here of the Preston Trampower aims for street running operation in that city centre, and the likelihood of further light rail schemes emerging in Lancashire including extension of trams south of Starr Gate.

This inexorably leads to provision of modern rolling stock from regional suppliers, as opposed to constant importation of high cost high value units from outside of the UK. The fact that every UK light rail system is wholly dependent on foreign equipment in the 21st century, is in and of itself indictment both of UK manufacturing industry, skewed government procurement policies, and the complete ineffectiveness of varied bodies who purport to advise, or represent the interests of UK tramway and light rail operators. Seemingly these well intended lobbyists are extremely good at organising social events and conferences, as well as devising annual awards for this or that 'good housekeeping' category with minimal meaning to farepayers. But when it comes to nurturing or somehow replicating the hard driving innovators and business leaders of a previous century - just forget about it. Keep open the welcome mat for German, Spanish, Belgian and French salesmen ever present whenever a UK light rail scheme begins to secure government underwriting for another new line or fleet expansion. This might have been permissible when the UK remained enmeshed within EU procurement procedures - but hardly fits with 'Global Britain' in 2021. Blackpool's imported Bombardier models, already looking a trifle worn and tired, will no doubt soldier on for at least a further ten or fifteen years. Putting in place a new 'English Electric' with wherewithal to become an efficient and cost effective supplier of tram train and light rail equipment for UK market demand has to be a far better use of light rail proponents in Britain. And ideally one which is embedded in a northern location - the City of Preston springs to mind !

Ever imposing despite its current mixed occupancy from former times. The Woolworth's building of the late 1930s and a much later design of Blackpool bus passing by.


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