More ambitious plans for Preston

Preston and modern trams is a story which keeps coming and this week in order to prove a point about how trams can run in the Lancashire city the Trampower group hired a bendy bus to go along proposed routes and calculate how it would affect congestion. All this comes as they prepare to submit a proposal to the city council for a full tram line – even before the short demonstration line is ready for operation.

It was last November that Trampower were finally given permission to build a short demonstration line on the disused railway between Skeffington Road and Deepdale Street. Clearance and construction work has been taking place since February 2017 on this 0.8 mile line – which will also include a tram station, platform and depot on a former coal yard at Deepdale – but as we reported in June it seemed that very little progress had been made. Despite this the latest news from Trampower is that preparatory works are due to start imminently and that this is a significant milestone. This line has always been considered to be a demonstration line but it now reported that they will use the stretch to train drivers to get them familiar with the operating system.

And why do they need to become familiar with the operating system? Because Trampower are planning a full tram line – to be known as the Guild line – running from Preston Railway Station to junction 31a of the M6 with 12 stops constructed. Incredibly the reports in the local press suggest that this could be running by 2019! So within two years a full tram line would be running where it has taken the best part of a year for a less than a mile demonstration line to begin preparatory works.

The past week has seen Trampower hire a bendy bus (from National Express Coventry) and it has been used to show that trams can fit in the streets and would have a positive effect on congestion. The bendy bus has been used as apparently it is a similar size to a tram.

Professor Lewis Lesley, Director of Preston Trampower, is quoted in the Lancashire Post: “It will have a major impact. We expect it to take about 25 per cent of the cars off that corridor. We have undertaken household surveys across the city and around 80 per cent said they welcome the idea and around the same amount would say they would use it at least twice a week. Hopefully, attitudes will convert to actual behaviour and we have factored in 1.8m passengers in our first year.”

Speaking about the tests being conducted with the bendy bus Petros Price, a transport expert working with Trampower, said: “One of the main on-street issues with trams is how it will affect the junction across Ringway; the idea today is to create a model for that effect. We’ve been videoing and surveying the junction throughout this week, we will look at traffic queue lengths, changes in signal timings, delays to vehicles and basically how a tram would affect wider traffic characteristics of the junction. The bendy bus is similar to a tram (in size), we’ll get a very good idea of how the junction will operate with a tram with a six-minute frequency.”

It is said that the plan would cost £19 million and that private operators are already lined up once full planning permission is achieved. No mention is made as to where a fleet of trams will come from – currently the Cityclass prototype previously seen in Blackpool and Birkenhead is the only tram available – and a 6 minute service would likely need a fleet of trams and this would increase costs significantly.

It is a case of wait and see whether anything ever does come of these plans to help relieve congestion in Preston.

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