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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

West Yorkshire Combined Authority

John Woodman

Among the many positive news items appearing over recent days is the announcement today that the West Yorkshire Combined Authority is finalising proposals for a new integrated transport network bringing together the towns and communities which make up this distinctive region. No decision has been made on whether the network will draw on light rail or tramtrain operation - but the examples of the West Midlands and Greater Manchester networks are cited as UK models that have been carefully assessed. As are utilising existing railway track for light rail use.

Of course Leeds in particular has experienced on again off again transit proposals that include both 'supertram' and trolleybus operation - neither of which progressed to actual development. Although work was undertaken for a guided bus (or trolleybus) network in Leeds, much of which utilised the former Leeds tramway's centre reservations. The last trams in Leeds ran in 1959 (I rode on the last car to Temple Newsam on a murky evening), West Riding Tramways operated a lengthy 'interurban'' service albeit with open balcony double deck trams - between the centre of Leeds and Wakefield until replacement by centre entrance double deck buses in the 1930s. Bradford's hilly routes restricted the tram fleet to open balcony cars but a brave attempt to bring a new dimension to the city's services involved a home built centre entrance four axle model which was tactfully limited to the Stanningly line with its straight track (for the most part). Bradford also (of course) was the final trolleybus operator in Britain - having excelled in managing an extensive system up to the 1970s.

The UK government's large 'piggy bank' for structural and strategic investment is tempting regions and communities to place bids for funding enabling major new urban and transportation schemes to become reality. The proposal for a fixed link bridge linking Scotland's northwest coastline with Larne in Northern Ireland is a good example of 'blue skies' approach in the post Brexit era. Blackpool and the Fylde's own conjoined strategies have in mind a strengthened rail network in which Blackpool Transport's existing light rail coastal line would form a critical component. Bringing the Fylde coast's communities within an wider integrated network is on most if not all Local Authority targets - as is the introduction of new technologies in power systems for trams, trains and road vehicles.

Built in West Yorkshire, One of the twenty five 'Coronation' cars built in Horbury by Charles Roberts Ltd. for Blackpool Corporation Transport - seen in its final livery and condition. Charles Roberts were one of a handful of companies still prepared to construct electric trams in the years following World War Two. Along with fellow Yorkshire firm, Roe Ltd. - their output was considered the highpoint of British tram design before the light rail era emerged during the 1980s. After examining Blackpool's test car 208 the management of Leeds City Transport opted for two prototype single deck trams (with centre entrances) - to be built by their local coachbuilder - Roe.

Ironically the Charles Roberts design for Blackpool was also used in their delivery of smaller centre entrance units for Khartoum Light and Power in the early 1950s. These came with matching trailers and considerable natural ventilation! Khartoum at the time falling under British influence .

A parallel announcement this week of a multibillion pound electric vehicle company being established in the UK to assemble and market electric buses, vans and small trucks underlines the radical transformative era we are are encountering. Global pressure from climate change and the urgency to transfer from fossil fuel to renewable and alternative energy impel faster moves by the public sector and business. Electric buses being early harbingers of such change on our streets - whilst expansion of light rail in key corridors of population centres is already ongoing in Dublin, Edinburgh and even on a very marginal basis - here in Blackpool. Manchester's Metrolink and city region government announced their intention to move forward with further extensions and new routes for the now substantial light rail network. Bolton being one of the neighbouring towns identifying the value of a Metrolink service.

All these underpin the now urgent need for UK light rail and tramtrain projects to source capital equipment from UK manufacturers ; breaking with the cosy foreign importation relationships so far benefitting EU countries exclusively. Not even Blackpool has been immune to dependency (or so it seems) on foreign trams - with a light rail fleet tidily 'bought in' through corporate sourcing and suppliers outwith the UK. Now that this country has regained control over its affairs (more or less) it has gained freedom from EU governance and oversight of public sector contracts - the extent of these constraint now highlighted in the current imbroglio involving the European Union and vaccine producer AstraZeneca.

British built light rail equipment has to be a priority for all public sector procurement going forward. The new Biden Administration is already setting the pace with much stricter US rail and transit procurement barriers on foreign imports being announced this month. Boris please take note.


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