| Comment - November 2003
Article Posted Saturday 8 November 2003
On the last comment page I concentrated on the state of the Blackpool Tramway. The 2003 season has now finished and as British Trams Onlineís final word on the subject I would like to point out that my comments were not just an unjustified whinge about everything concerned with Blackpool. I donít think anyone who has been to Blackpool this year will deny that the service frequency has been severely disappointing, especially when compared with recent previous years (although we must also point out in the past it has been worse). However we are probably now all aware that the tramway has suffered from two major problems during the year. Firstly the state of the track in the northern section has meant double-deckers canít get to Fleetwood (meaning a lack of capacity) and there is also a severe staff shortage in the industry nationwide. Blackpool seems to have been badly hit with Blackpool Transport seemingly concentrating on making sure their bus services have operated properly. Hopefully with the 2003 season now over we can draw a line over a dark period in the Blackpool Tramway with trackwork likely to commence in January on sections not yet treated between Thornton Gate and Fleetwood. But (there is always a but isnít there?) this is still not a guarantee that double-deck trams will be able to go the full distance. As they say, watch this space for details of whether things improve for next year.
Elsewhere in the tram and light rail world we now have a further delay on the opening of Nottingham Express Transit. As we are aware the system was originally scheduled for a 11 November opening and then we heard the opening would be delayed for 4-8 weeks due to a derailment causing a delay in testing. Now the latest from the East Midlands city is that further delays have meant that the opening is now not likely until the early spring, with March and April currently being mentioned. The reasons for the delay in the opening this time have been widely mentioned elsewhere on this site and on the internet as a whole so there is no need to go into those here. Suffice to say the training and testing program is now only really getting into full swing and as such the full timetable (without passengers) has not yet commenced. The latest press release from NET stated that this should commence within the next few weeks and when it does we will be getting closer to the start date for the UKís latest entrant into the light rail market. Personally I donít think we should get too carried away over this latest delay for NET as we have seen it happen on numerous occasions on other UK systems. In fact, very few things on a scale this size to open on their original schedule and it is better that everything is just right for the opening as if its want you can be sure that the antis would be out in force (not that there arenít already) saying what a bad thing this evil tram is. The opening of NET is now even more eagerly waited and of course British Trams Online will have features on the system in the run up to the opening. (We are still looking to find someone who would be willing to write a short piece on the day of the opening, whenever it might be, for publication on the site. If you are interested and willing please email us at the usual address.)
Elsewhere in the country there is a growing frustration from many quarters over the stance of the government on light rail. Blackpool has now been waiting around 2 years to hear about their application for funding to upgrade and extend the tramway with state of the art light rail vehicles has and as such they are starting to wonder whether the package will be approved by Whitehall. Both Leeds and South Hampshire were called back to the government after costs rocketed even before construction began. Back in mid October the two councils involved in the South Hampshire system released a joint press release showing their exasperation over more and more delays. The Department for Transport had asked them to look at ways that they could reduce costs and this was done and a revised plan was presented to Whitehall. But they have still not heard anything as to whether the project still has the go-ahead and obviously are anxious that the matter is resolved. We all understand that the government want to be careful before giving funding for projects on this scale and that many of the light rail projects have seen costs soar. However there was also a pledge from this government that there would be a massive increase in the amount of light rail in their 10-year plan and they now seem to be going back on their original intentions. What the future is for any future expansion of light rail schemes or even new systems remains to be seen but as long as there are councils who want light rail in their town or city there is at least a little hope that we weíll see more places joining the light rail family.
Finally, for this month, this site has just launched the 2003 search for The Tram of the Year. Email us if you have any ideas over a tram which has contributed greatly this year. It could have re-entered service after a refurbishment or overhaul or perhaps has gone somewhere where a tram has never gone before! It could even have received a new livery or anything else you care to think of. If you want more details visit this page or if you want to nominate a tram email us here giving details of the tram and what it has done that is so special!