Home: October - November 2011 › In with the new
In with the new
01/11/2011 | Channel:
Infrastructure, Rolling Stock, Business Improvement, New Products & Services
With completion expected in Easter 2012, Blackpool Tramway recently unveiled a new tram design that will operate on its soon to be upgraded network
Blackpool Tramway, which reached its 125th birthday in September 2010, has the distinction of being the only tramway in the UK to have been in continuous operation throughout its lifetime. When every other tramway service closed for both long and short periods of time during the 1940s and 1950s, Blackpool’s continued to provide transportation services to the town’s residents. What was once a network of lines running throughout the town is today a single route stretching 18 kilometres from Starr Gate to Fleetwood. Operating with a mixed fleet of heritage trams in a variety of sizes, the service runs at 20-minute intervals, with provisions in place to cater for higher demand as and when required. The council owns the tramway infrastructure, whilst the tram operation is overseen and operated by Blackpool Transport Services (BTS), a council-owned company. BTS also operates the town’s bus services.
Together BTS and Blackpool Council have been working in close partnership on a major redevelopment programme for Blackpool Tramway, one that is bringing the network roaring into the 21st century: “The reason behind the upgrade work is twofold,” explains Paul Grocott, project manager for Blackpool Council. “Firstly, Blackpool Tramway has a responsibility to become completely compliant with the UK Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) by no later than 2019. The reason it is not compliant at present is due to the age of Blackpool Tramway and the simple fact that it has been in continuous service since 1885. The second driver behind the modernisation programme is the need for the infrastructure of the tramway to be upgraded – something that again is linked with the age of the system as a whole.
“As a precursor to the work, Blackpool Council has spent the last several years replacing some ten kilometres of track, leaving eight kilometres left in various places to be replaced. Just north of the town the network also features approximately 20 highway crossings that are uncontrolled and non-signalled. As a way of improving safety and eliminating the unnecessary slowing down of the trams, several of these crossings are being removed, with the rest becoming fully signalled, giving the trams priority over road users.”
Another task for the council and BTS is the creation of 37 new tram stops, an undertaking that Paul highlights is essential to the tramway meeting DDA legislation and Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (RVAR): Tramway“At present Blackpool Tramway’s tram stops are little more than signs in the ground where passengers board up a small number of steps. The building of new tram stops is designed specifically to meet RVAR rules that relate to the relationship between the platform level and the door threshold of the tram. By bringing this into line, those passengers who are mobility impaired or in a wheelchair will be able to access the tram much more easily.”
The modernisation and upgrade work doesn’t end here however, with Blackpool Council involved in the building of a new depot for its new fleet of trams in Starr Gate, the upgrading of the electrical network to allow the tramway to operate at 600 volts and the replacement of the overhead line infrastructure. Despite the monumental amount of work involved in this programme, BTS and Blackpool Council, since receiving approval from the Department of Transport in June 2009, have retained the aim of completing the project by Easter 2012, a deadline that is still comfortably on course to be met.
On September 8th, 2011, the first in a series of new trams to be used on the Blackpool Tramway network was officially unveiled to the press and the public: “These new trams are an amalgamation of previous technologies used by Bombardier, brought together with new designs and innovations to create a
100 per cent, low-floor vehicle,” states Dave Hislop, engineering director of BTS.
This new tram design incorporates a modular design, is more environmentally friendly and boasts a number of advanced features such as touch-screen controls factoryin the driver’s cab. Like its biggest predecessors it seats 74 people, however where it differs is its wheelchair spaces, priority seating zones, stop bells and its ability to support 150 standing passengers.
“Each new tram is able to carry three times as many people as before and by increasing the frequency of the service from 20 minutes to ten minutes at peak times Blackpool Tramway will be equipped to move a huge number of people around much more efficiently,” Paul enthuses. “Spacious, comfortable and virtually silent, passengers are going to be able to experience first hand just how far removed it is to ride a modern tram. With fewer tram stops, more doors for people to enter and exit and with priority at junctions these passengers can also look forward to a service that cuts up to 15 minutes off its end-to-end journey time.”
As Dave admits, a project of this size has and will continue to present some considerable challenges, nevertheless the achievements BTS and Blackpool Council have made to date mean both parties are starting to turn an eye to the future: “Once the new network is up and running there is little doubt that it will serve as a major advancement for Blackpool. Blackpool Council is now in the process of examining the possibilities of extending the tramway in the years to come, possibly linking it to the airport and railway station amongst other things, an idea that it and BTS sees as one way of making sure that trams continue to operate in Blackpool for another 125 years.”