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In Conversation with Irvine Bell in April 2002|
Do you agree with the councils plans for upgraded of the tramway?
The council's plans - which essentially are to turn the system into a modern light railway with extensions in both the Lytham and Fleetwood directions over existing and former railway alignments - are very ambitious. I would personally be very pleased to see the line to Lytham converted to electric light rail and integrated into the existing tramway, provided a good or even better than present heavy rail link to Preston also results. However, I have severe doubts as to whether the Council's proposals are really financially viable.
Do you think it is important to retain some of the historic tram cars?
Yes, I think it is. But the present large fleet of historic vehicles cannot go on for ever being the mainstay of the system.
Would you say the tramway is 'vital' to the local economy?
I would say that the present tramway is very important to the tourist trade. I doubt however that the proposed extensions are 'vital' to the local economy.
Do you think the tramway plays a vital role in public transport? Do you think it will once the councils plans are finished?
The existing tramway plays a major role in local public transport. I am not convinced that the planned extensions can be considered 'vital' however.
Would you say the tramway's primary function is tourism?
Tourists represent a major proportion of the tramway's users. It does however provide a very useful link for local residents wishing to make North - South journeys. I doubt though that the tramway's continued existence could be justified without the tourists.
Do you think the tramway helps alleviate congestion?
I don't see how Blackpool's promenades could cope without the tramway, or buses running along the tramway reservation. Blackpool are said once to have considered converting the [promenade] tramway to a busway but recoiled at the cost. Keeping the tramway was a much better option.
Do you think many residents will use the light rail upgrade as opposed to buses? Do you think the tram network is extensive enough to serve as a useful form of public transport?
I doubt whether enough patronage will be generated on the proposed extensions to justify the costs involved in full conversation to light rail. In the case of the existing line down through Lytham, extending the line North back to Central Station, putting in a passing loop at Lytham and continuing to operate with heavy rail DMUs might be worth doing however.
Overall, knowing what we know about the problems of financing new tramways elsewhere, I will be quite surprised if Blackpool Council's proposals ever significantly materialise.