Blackpool's historic tramway runs north-south along the seafront, and is currently undergoing a major upgrade. However, it remains unconnected to the town's stations, on the mainline at Blackpool North, and to the smaller South Fylde line.
Blackpool will study and, if feasible, implement a connection between the upgraded Promenade tramway and the South Fylde line. This would potentially involve trial of a tram-train service with the support of Network Rail, which might or might not be available for revenue operation. Northern Rail, which is a partner in the UK's national tram-train trial, has already expressed interest in a trial operation in Blackpool.
In Blackpool, preparation for the INTERREG bid has already involved a preliminary consultant's report. However, two events have since occurred which will affect the future parameters of our study.
The first concerns difficulties over procurement of diesel tram-train vehicles conforming to more stringent EU emissions regulations. Second, an announcement in November 2009 by the UK Secretary of State for Transport that he intends by 2016 to electrify the mainline from Manchester to Blackpool North, suggests consideration of an alternative whereby trams would connect to Preston via Blackpool North Station, using the more readily available 'tried-and-tested' d.c./a.c. vehicles.
What is now proposed is a further one-year consultant's report, to be competitively tendered, in two stages. The first would evaluate all the available options for connecting tramway and railway and include Blackpool North as well as the South Fylde line. It would also embrace further longer-run development, and produce a short list of options for more detailed technical and economic evaluation. (These, critically, would include both segregated operation of trams and trains, and inter-operation of both on the same tracks, as in Germany). The second stage would produce a recommended development strategy in three phases:
- Short-term (2009-12): consideration of the feasibility of constructing a short test track within the lifetime of SINTROPHER and to test tram-train operations on it by summer 2012
- Medium-term (2013-17)
- Long-term (beyond 2017): effectively 'blue-sky' thinking
The Fylde Coast part of the Sintropher budget is €4.735 million (€1.563 million ERDF, €3.173 million match funding), though the actual sum available for spend is €3.173 million.