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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Northern Lights

John Woodman

Amid the threatening embrace of the Omicron virus nationwide - and beyond there are brave initiatives and proposals emerging daily all around us. For a start the actions of what seem to be an army of charities are helping with uplifting the lives of communities and individual families in most areas of the north. Blackpool being no exception and including Blackpool Football Club as just one example. BFC it should be remembered was instrumental in the rebranding of Centenary Car 641 for display on the Promenade a few years back - with the tram celebrating the longevity and success of the Club through many years.

641 being prepared for transfer from Wyre Dock to its BFC display role at the Pleasure Beach tram terminus. Sister car Centenary 643 stands in the background for a longer journey to Birmingham and a repaint. Colin MacLeod (he with the silver hair) confers with the moving team.

The tram (641 and 643) were both built in Blackburn for Blackpool Transport - the last such examples (eight in total) before imported European equipment took over the UK light rail market. - for the time being. Photo: John Woodman

Latest news of further extension of Blackpool's Illuminations display is a much needed aid to encouraging visitors to the resort during the 'down months' from January to March. Another Lancashire town with links to Blackpool is Blackburn. Blackpool's Centenary cars were built at a factory in Blackburn, emerging as the final design of 'traditional' trams for a British tramway with the prototype (641) delivered in 1984 and followed by seven further examples. of the class. Blackpool's bus fleet was similarly renewed from 1977 by delivery of over sixty front entrance double deck units in smart dark green and cream colours - from the same East Lancashire Coach Builders factory in Blackburn. Now Blackburn is to begin a £250 Million renewal of its town centre with a 'green' element of tree and shrubbery planting. Blackpool can take lessons from this latest urban centre scheme to similarly strengthen and enhance the look and feel of its own town centre. With exception of the 'Alan Cavill' arboretum planting on a section of Cookson Street - Blackpool's central commercial district is more or less bereft of green space. Less than a handful of token trees were added to St John's precinct in the makeover of this once busy location - whilst 'Mars Attacks' lighting installations dominate adjoining shopping streets. One brave surviving tree on Corporation Street is the closest the civic area gets to recognising the value of 'green space'.

More bravely however the Council have perserved with returning trams in Talbot Square for the new line to Blackpool North Station - with tram rail and overhead wires in evidence showing an imminent change for the better. Not too far away another Lancashire urban centre is in the throes of returning electric trams to public service. Ironically Preston once gave employment to generations engaged in electric tram manufacture and supplied equipment to tramway systems around the world, not just throughout the UK. This all ended in 1940 with onset of war and final deliveries to Aberdeen and Blackpool. Today private promoters are working to create a new line from Preston's northern districts to the centre and railway station. From time to time the promoters have worked in consultation with Blackpool Transport's managers - utilising the seafront line to test experimental models for potential application in Preston, as well as other UK towns with their own aspirations for light rail service. Proximity of both Lancashire operations, together with the logical connection of an inter-running service on the south Fylde coast to take in the important technology hub of BAE Systems at Warton - suggest strengthening this commonality of interest.

It is entirely possible for the Preston light rail project and Blackpool's Fylde coast tramway to finally connect together within a consolidated light rail operating structure; sharing costs and experience - while benefitting an ever large swathe of communities and providing sustainable new employment in engineering and associated skills. Ironic as well is the fact that some of the original tram manufacturing site in Preston, on Strand Road, still stands as testimony to earlier generations of electric tram designers and builders; whilst Blackpool manages to hold on to its own first generation tram works and depot complex at Rigby Road - together with a respectable number of Preston built trams from the 1930s. Given this country's urgent need to break its reliance on imported rolling stock and capital goods - the lessons from history and present seeds of rail equipment development still evident in this part of the north are more than worthy of joined up collaboration between Preston and Fylde coast strategic interests. There are a number of major companies in and around Preston able to bring about this renaissance - given modest prompting and like minded political players.


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