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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Rigby Road Depot - Best Use

John Woodman

Comments posted online elsewhere on the recent announcement of a crowdfunding appeal for donations to cover the anticipated costs of renewing the roof of the 1930s built tram depot indicate reluctance on the part of a number of transport enthusiasts to 'cough up'.

A reorganisation of the Rigby Road operating site (both bus and tram) is prompted by Blackpool Council decision to proceed with transition of its large bus fleet from diesel fuel to electric power. The urgency of reducing global emissions in order to avert looming temperature rises is now the number one priority of governments and international institutions. Blackpool's coastal position along with neighboring communities render the town liable to sustained sea level rises and flooding during the century. This is hardly a new phenomena. Both Fleetwood and Rossall were inundated in the 1920s with intermittent breaches of Fylde sea defences experienced ever since.

The 'plight' of the new tram depot built on an exposed stretch of the sea wall at Starr Gate suggests this integral part of the light rail upgrade may well fall victim to seawater ingress as sea levels continue to rise through melting ice caps and glaciers - a process already well underway. All of Britain's coastline is 'at risk' from inundation and erosion requiring especial care and planning on the part of public authorities, local, regional and national.

Getting back to the tram depot matter. It is evident that a coterie of well meaning amateurs fixated on tram preservation and retention of relics from the previous century neither possess the experience or commercial know-how of maintaining and operating a sizeable leisure attraction. So far at least Blackpool Transport have got away with delegating tramway heritage assets to mostly (but not all) unpaid volunteers. Insofar as the visiting public are concerned having old trams trundling up and down the promenade is an added 'treat' to their seaside experience. Gaining more insight and a rounded perspective on the important role electric power has played in the growth of the town is lacking entirely - with its justifiable town motto 'Progress'.

Scranton, Pennsylvania, birthplace of President Biden and home to a working tram museum. Also a pioneer of electric power and lighting in the 1890s.

The onset of electricity in lighting and transport spurred the town's leading citizens to introduce both trams (sans steam or equine power), and illuminations which conveniently (and logically) came under a single municipal department in the 1890s. Headquartered initially on Shannon Street and then Caroline Street in the Foxhall District, Blackpool Corporation Tramways grew exponentially in importance from 1901 with expanding new routes; whilst motor buses didn't make their appearance (in Corporation colours) until 1921. Up to 1921 Blackpool had three entirely seperate tramway operators with services in the town. In the 1930s the town boldly set forth to rebrand its entire transport system with streamline new buses (most built locally), and a fleet of luxurious new trams.

This instructive story is yet to be fully told beyond specialised publications with a limited audience of a few thousand. The need for a 'Sealife' experience which amplifies at popular level the resort's pioneering transport history - calls for more than lines of old trams in a depot setting, or intermittent 'tours' from bare stops devoid of seats, shelter or staffed information. In fact if the Council or BTS were to widen their thinking on a tram/transport attraction they could start the process by inviting Merlin to take on the management and marketing role - allowing that pre-eminent leisure operator to add to its Blackpool 'cluster' of attractions (and revenue base) in return for providing commercial and financial wherewithal, benefitting both Illuminations and Tramways revenue. Quite evidently an infusion of new ideas and business talent will transform challenges today into opportunities going forward. Simply reshuffling the deckchairs by assigning strategic decisions in-house to inexperienced well meaning amateurs doesn't cut the mustard.

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