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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Light Rail In The Fylde - Strategic Plans Anyone ?

John Woodman

Viewing online transport maps of both the West Midlands and Manchester Metrolink provides strategic thinking and forward plans of both operators - together with supporting information on the economic, social and business case for extensions to the respective systems. Free from over indulgence in nostalgia and top heavy reference to 'heritage' it is refreshing to read the 'blue skies'

approach of planners involved with light rail development.

The ongoing extensive work underway in and around Birmingham is testimony to the importance that electric powered trams fulfill in West Midland's broader approach to climate change. Compare this to the capital's over reliance on buses traversing key travel corridors with consequent health hazards, particularly affecting both older citizens and the young living and going to schools in proximity. Meaningful studies and community consultation has been undertaken in the assessment of light rail investment ahead of application for sizeable capital grants and 'top up' funding contributions.

Such advance actions are essential to justify government endorsement and multi department approval of capital expenditure for infrastructural investment in new build rail lines (roads and bridges). Whereas the West Midlands and Greater Manchester City Region have the wherewithal to sustain pre-development and planning costs on tbe scale needed to satisfy central government departments (and the Treaury), fragmented Local Authorities in the Fylde, including Blackpool, are labouring (no pun intended) to put proverbial heads above the parapet to check out optimum needs for new (and alternative) transport infrastructure well into the present century.

Short term political voting cycles inhibit elected Councils in expending time on strategic planning and influences far beyond current terms of office. Only strong and forceful leadership by appointed Management teams, conjoined by public support and business - is able to attain the scale of achievements and forward thinking decisions necessary to build up a light rail network. Blackpool's Unitary Authority is not large enough on its own to make much headway beyond municipal boundaries within the Fylde, when logically public transport planning requires a broad brush approach involving at least three or four counterparts extending north, east and south of the coastline.

The framing of modern light rail, and tram train development, in this case incorporating Blackpool's existing spinal tram service in its present truncated format terminating at Starr Gate; at least has several proven strengths and assets. What is lacking currently is determined coordination of combined public bodies to work in tandem on an overarching transport plan embracing the region from Lancaster and Morecambe in the north, to Preston and environs in the south east, and of course all of the coastal communities from Warton to Fleetwood with their Over-Wyre hinterland.

The MP for Blackpool North - Paul Maynard, Conservative, has put forward proposals for a Fylde coast tramway 'loop' taking in the currently moribund railway right of way running from Poulton Station as far as Wyre Dock in Fleetwood. Surprisingly the Poulton to Fleetwood railway line does not seem to appear in the Government's approved list of priority railway restoration projects. The sligjhtly less moribund railway line to Blackpool South terminal from Kirkham (a single line corridor in its entirety) merits only the modest proposal for insertion of a passing loop midway on the line between Kirkham and Blackpool. In both instances were Blackpool to have the same political and pugnacious dynamism to that shown by the Leader of Greater Manchester's City Region -, Andy Burnham, - both Fleetwood, Thornton and Poulton, together with all of the communities stretching from Warton to Blackpool might receive far more plaudits of a rail investment nature.

One outline schematic (2018) of how the Fylde can be transformed by light rail investment and joined up thinking by Local Authorities and Planners of varying hues.

But we are where we are - at least for the moment. This Blog had put forward a potential integrated light rail and tram train network proposal for the Fylde coast four years ago (Above) when the possibility of redeveloping Wyre Dock and adjoining land in Fleetwood was 'floated' by local interests. The scheme too relied on reopening the existing rail trackbed between Poulton and Fleetwood dockside land, but seemingly this was well beyond the low horizons of north Fylde administrators. Instead a visionary project emerged further north at Morecambe which captured the sentiment of influencing politicians in London, and may in time bring about a new light rail connection for that seaside town with Lancaster. Similarly in Preston, it is the private sector which is pursuing creation of an initial light rail service (the Guild Line) utilising a former railway right of way combined with a new city centre on street running line all the way to Preston's train station hub (sound familiar?)

What Blackpool and its Fylde neighbours need is similar joined up endeavours, led by vocal protaganists from both the public and private sectors, Promenade Tram tours and heritage cars are fine for sunny days on the Promenade, but they are no substitute for the scale of planning and investment needed for the multilayered demands of this century - and beyond.


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