Preston Station - Past & Present
PRESTON TRAMPOWER SCHEME

NOTE : This article was written in 2010, when the scheme was first announced. There is an update on the plans, as at November 2013 here.

You can visit a website dedicated to the Preston scheme here.

Mention the idea of building a tram system in Preston, and you are likely to be met with a certain degree of scepticism. Various grand schemes have been loudly trumpeted over the past few years, but trams have yet to depart from the drawing board, let alone a station. Perhaps there hasn’t been the political will to overcome the hurdles of financing and planning. Certainly, the experiences of other towns and cities in the UK would suggest that even before the global financial collapse, public money simply wasn't available, regardless of the green credentials of electric trams. 

So why would the newest proposals be any different?

Lincoln Shields of Tram Power explains that their scheme is to be financed completely by the private sector, effectively removing most of the political red-tape which could otherwise cause even the best scheme to be delayed for months or years...or indefinitely. More importantly, the scheme being promoted by the Bootle-based firm, doesn’t try to achieve too much in one go. By promoting a series of small, relatively achievable steps, there would seem to be a far better chance of success.

Stage one of Preston’s tram system could even be in place this summer. The Deepdale end of the former Longridge branch has been disused for 20 years now, but the line is officially "mothballed", with track still intact from the West Coast Main Line to Westview Leisure Centre. Tram Power are currently at an advanced stage of negotiation with Network Rail to take a lease on the section between Westview and the eastern portal of Miley Tunnel (North Road). That would enable them to set-up a demonstration line for their own prototype vehicle, which had already proved itself on the Blackpool tram system before a recent refurbishment. Tram Power want to be able to demonstrate all of their products, which also include a low-cost catenary and innovative street-running track system. The latter would be used on a re-laid crossing of Skeffington Road, which would also gain automatically controlled lights in place of crossing gates.

pic1
Preston once had an extensive street tram system,  which like those in almost every other town in Britain, was removed when diesel busses
began their domination of local public transport.

pic5It's just possible that the demonstration line could provide the necessary spark, and focus minds on the potential benefits of trams for Preston. Having an actual working tram in our midst might actually make it hard not to promote a passenger-carrying service. The step from demo-line to a genuinely useful, commercial operation is again, a fairly small and achievable one. Stage 2 would see the line extended northwards to a new terminus at Deepdale Retail Park, with the southern limit being extended through Miley tunnel to the University campus. All the running would be on the former Longridge formation and would take advantage of the fact that the rails are still in-situ, requiring only minor attention to bring them up to the undemanding standards required for lightweight tram vehicles.

pic7Looking further ahead, it is hoped that Preston’s first passenger-carrying trams of the 21st century, would be the beginning of substantial network of lines radiating from the city centre. Extensive use would be made of disused railway routes, in order to maximise the positive effect of taking buses off the roads. Listed below are the routes which are being considered. These range from the easily achievable, like Walton-Le-Dale Capitol Centre (via the former East Lancs Extension), to an ambitious 14km line to Leyland and Chorley. Some of these are long-term aspirations rather than firm plans at this stage, but by laying-out the full range of possibilities Tram Power hopes that some of their own enthusiasm will rub-off on politicians and potential commercial backers.

Routes

Route

Length

Pos. Date

pic6

Demonstration Line

West View to Miley Tunnel East Portal

1.25km

2010

Extension of Demo. Line

UCLAN to Deepdale Retail Park(via Miley Tunnel)

1.75km

2010

Line 1

Redscar (incl.P & R) to Preston Rail Station

6.00km

2012 (Preston Guild)

Line 2

Docklands to Preston Rail Station

4.00km

2012 (Preston Guild)

Line 3

Capitol Centre (incl. P & R) to Preston Rail Station

3.50km

2012 (Preston Guild)

Line 4

UCLAN to Preston Rail Station (via Thithebarn)

2.25km

2013

Line 5

Deepdale to Royal Preston Hospital and M55 Jct 1-P & R

5.00km

2013

Line 6

Lostock Hall to Preston Rail Station

3.00km

2013

Line 7

Lostock Hall to Leyland & Chorley

13.75km

2014

Line 8

Lostock Hall to Ormskirk (incl.Farrington Moss P & R)

19.00km

2014

Line 9

Hutton P & R to Preston Rail Station

5.00km

2014

Possible Opening dates are estimates only, but it is believed that with appropriate backing, a significant portion of the network could be in place by the Guild celebrations in 2012. Tram Power’s catenary and track products are designed to be quick and cheap to install, allowing for the rapid roll-out shown in the table above. Although these dates are technically achievable, the issues surrounding acquisition of land and funding might prove to be more challenging.

pic8

Rolling-stock

Tram Power already has one vehicle for use on the demonstration line. If the go-ahead was given to begin passenger operations, new vehicles would be needed. The aim is to have a tram-building facility in the Preston area, which would take advantage of a huge amount of local expertise in vehicle construction. A company in the Ribbleton area is poised to begin construction of the production design, which would debut on the Deepdale Branch in a matter of months. 

On paper, the Tram Power design has significant benefits over established competitors, but the proof was provided by an extended period of trials on the Blackpool system, during which time the vehicle achieved 100% availability. There is interest in Tram Power’s vehicles, from around the world and it’s believed that the demonstration line and subsequent public service, would help to convert that interest into sales.

pic2

Track system

Whilst around 35km of the proposed system would be on traditional rail, the street-running portions, totalling over 25km, would make use of the unique Tram Power rail system, which is designed to be laid with minimum disruption to road and utilities, and can be embedded into existing roads without rebuilding. The cushioned rail also results in quieter running and low levels of wear-and-tear.

It's easy to be a sceptic about Tram Power's plans. Preston doesn't have a good record when it comes to transport and infrastructure projects - most recently the stop-start Tithebarn scheme. It's fairly clear though, that what is needed is some positive thinking and a "can do" attitude. This is our best chance to resurrect some of our former railway routes whilst providing a genuinely useful, environmentally friendly,  transport system for Preston and South Lancashire, and should therefore be given all the support it can be given. 

Hopefully the demonstration line will come to fruition very soon and provide a very visible glimpse of what could be. With enough public and commercial support we could help to promote Preston to the premier league of cities like Sheffield, Manchester which have modern public transit systems.

© Adrian Bradshaw May 2010