Storm hits Blackpool’s new tram depot

The Blackpool tramway suffered severe disruption on Saturday 10th January, when winds of around 40mph battered the Fylde coast. Whilst the changes to the advertised service was unfortunate, the most serious matter concerned the multi-million pound tram depot at Starr Gate which suffered quite significant damage as a result of the storm.

During the day, high winds managed to tear away a section of the depot roof. Conflicting reports have appeared regarding the severity of the damage, although it appears that the damage affected the canopy of the building which extends outwards at the front of the structure towards the depot track fan. However, the situation was deemed severe enough for the promenade and the adjacent road to be closed off due to concerns that further sections of the roof may become detached and blow onto the path or the road nearby. The southbound tram service was also terminated at Pleasure Beach, meaning that all Flexity2 trams were forced to use the turning circle at this location which is still fairly rare territory for the class. Normal service along New South Promenade was restored the following day with some remedial work being carried out on the depot roof as a temporary measure.

Other disruptions during the day occured on 10th January – most notably at North Pier where concerns of a damaged flagpole close to the tramway led to the service being temporarily suspended whilst the obstacle was removed. This required the overhead power to be isolated and some trams were stabled in the area with their pantographs tied down until the service resumed.

Hopefully the worst of the winter weather is now over and Blackpool can recover from the January storm, although no doubt questions will be asked about the ease with which a modern and highly expensive tram depot became damaged. It is quite astonishing that the 80 year old depot at Rigby Road remains intact,although admittedly showing its age – presumably benefitting from its less exposed inland location.

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23 Responses to Storm hits Blackpool’s new tram depot

  1. Tony Sullivan says:

    It is unfortunate that this expensive new depot has been damaged. However I personally always wondered why a brand new depot such as this was built in sea front position where not only high winds coming off the sea could be a problem as well as storm conditions bringing salt water and sand across the sea wall.

  2. Frank Gradwell says:

    Absolutely – a portal frame sheet clad building in an exposed location like this was always going to be vulnerable.

    As most external cladding is pvc coated one must also wonder at how long the coating will last given the almost continuous sand blasting it will get in a location like this.

    I believe the “new” tramway is on a management contract with Bombardier – I wonder if this extends to the infrastructure as well

  3. Michael says:

    I was on the first southbound tram to be halted outside the Metropole Hotel because of the dangerous flagpole hanging near the overhead wires. The passengers were allowed to disembark from the tram from the offside doors with a minimum of fuss and of course nowhere near a platform: certainly very few ‘elf ‘n safety’ issues raised here!

    Once the halted service was allowed to resume, it was interesting to see four Flexities running to the Pleasure Beach in relative close proximity, echoes from the days when frequent specials used to run to the Pleasure Beach in the season.

    In order to regain correct times, it was again interesting to see trams running northbound to Cleveleys, Thornton Gate and Fisherman’s Walk
    as well as Fleetwood Ferry: very unusual destinations these days, especially in winter.

    As southbound trams terminated at the Pleasure Beach (the number 1 bus service also couldn’t reach Starr Gate because of road closures), a single deck bus, showing ‘Tram Replacement’ on the indicator, operated south of the Pleasure Beach but running on the tram track. This is not something I have seen before.

    • Phil Hart says:

      Anyone know why and when they changed the destination from Ash Street to Fisherman’s Walk.

      When I have been in Fleetwood I hear quite a few people still call it Ash Street.

  4. David Butterworth says:

    It gives me no pleasure at all in correctly forecasting this type of incident,
    owing to the exposed nature of the site, even before the depot was built, back in late 2009.

    As a regular visitor to Blackpool since the early 1950’s the Starr Gate location has always held respect, bordering on fear, of the gusting winds, high tides and rough seas.

    Back in June 1962 as a young boy, I became acquainted with one of the tramway workers who had a hut close by, and he had revealed that a large upper section of the sea wall had been undermined and brought down the previous stormy week; he showed me the very spot, with tons of rubble – it looked scary, I have to say, and this was in June!!

  5. John Gilbert says:

    I agree whole-heartedly with Mr Sullivan. It is not rocket science to realise that the promenade gets regularly pasted by the weather, and particularly the prevailing wind which comes from the south-west. I imagine that that is precisely why Blackpool Corporation built their original depot inland, at Rigby Road. But no, we never learn, do we. Is it, do you think, the result of our modern weak education system? As the Bible says, “As ye sow so shall ye reap.” Exactly.

  6. Tony Sullivan says:

    To be fair I posted my earlier comment bearing in mind that the reason the new depot was built where it is because to build one somewhere away from the sea front would be very costly in terms of finding and financing the purchase of a suitable site. I assume that Blackpool Borough Council owned the freehold of the present site and were persuaded to allow the building at no cost for the purchase thereof.

  7. Nigel Pennick says:

    Traditional buildings were located and constructed by local people who knew the potential weather hazards of any possible site. Buildings were orientated with regard to the prevailing winds, so that the roofs would not be blown off. Contemporary design on a computer screen may be done by technicians who never visit the site, although severe weather modelling is facilitated by CAD. All over the country, the houses built and flooded on flood plains attest to this lack of topographical understanding in contemporary building location. Sadly the Blackpool tram depot must be added to these costly locational mistakes.

  8. tram man says:

    Sadly like most things made in a throw away society,the new depot wasn’t made to last.You have only got to look at the lovely houses on the sea front between Bispham and cleveleys, built in the 1930s of stock brick and stone.They look as good as the day they were built.

  9. Mick Cahill says:

    None of the previous tram sheds including Bispham, Bold Street, Blundell Street, Copse Road, Marton and Rigby Road, were built on the front. The new tram shed could have been built on the site of Central Station or close to the Lonsdale Coach Station with tracks coming down New Bonny Street to the Promenade.

  10. Ken Walker says:

    The decision on the site for the new tram depot fits in well with the decision on the site for the new concert venue near the tower which had to be evacuated by the police during its first event (Elton John) due to an approaching weather event, not to mention its location which means the brand new tramway having to be truncated every time it is used. It must be a Blackpool council thing. Heads should be rolling.

  11. Franklyn says:

    I always thought the sea front at Starrgate was a silly place to build anything, especially a multi-million pound facility full of expensive vehicles and high voltage electrics! There’s a reason the site previously only contained a couple of little wooden huts and a go-cart track.

    The depot location is also a poor choice being at one end of a linear system. Not only does it take a huge amount of time to get the fkrst tram out to form the first depargure from Fleetwood each morning, but also if something happens to the track near the depot it is effectivelyisolated from the whole system, rather than being isolated from only half the system, which would have been the case had the depot been located at the mid point.

    I’d have thought somewhere like Bispham would have been a much better bet. Unfortunately the so-called “upgrade” was designed and instigated by paper-pushers and computer nerds, totally excluding anyone with any kind of idea about designing and running a public transport system.

    • Ken Walker says:

      That did indeed happen a while ago when the tramway was obstructed between Starr Gate and Pleasure Beach by a wayward car, and confined the whole Flexity fleet to the depot. On the plus side it resulted in the only occasion so far when the widened balloon fleet was used.

  12. Malc Bury says:

    I am sure that I heard, not that many moons ago, the original plan was to build on, and adjacent to, the old Blundell Street depot site, and hence the siting of points on the main line at Foxhall square? Then the powers that be decided that the land was too valuable and earmarked it for housing?

    • Paul D says:

      Correct Malcolm, the former Blundell Street site was originally the preferred option, but as well as the land values, there was also the time needed for full decontamination of the former gasworks part of the site.

      I don’t think anyone would argue that Starr Gate was the perfect location, but it was the best at the time that was (a) large enough (b) available immediately (c) within budget (d) most importantly – in close proximity to the tramway!

      I have to agree with Franklyn that having the depot at the extremity of the (present) route does lead to a significant amount of ‘dead mileage’, however I can’t think of any available single site adjacent to the northern end of the tramway that would be large enough. If the line is extended southwards as proposed, Starr Gate becomes much more central and if/when extensions happen and the fleet is increased significantly, a small 3/4 car northern ‘outstation’ could be justified. Possibly the Copse Road area or Thornton Gate would be viable options.

    • Frank Gradwell says:

      Snouts in the trough?!

      No – that could never be the case – could it???

    • Phil Hart says:

      Couldn’t they have built it on the former Thornton Gate sidings

      • Paul D says:

        As I said above Phil, Thornton Gate would be a viable site for an ‘outstation’ (stabling only) depot. It is far too small to accommodate 16 trams plus all the maintenance facilities that are at Starr Gate. You would fit only 6-8 Flexity size trams in the available space so would still have needed additional accommodation and the workshops elsewhere…

  13. Paul W says:

    My understanding also was that the Blundell Street site was earmarked for the depot. I believe that when an upgrade was first proposed in the early noughties BTS were told informally by the planning officers that the Blundell Street site was likely to be acceptable.

    When the upgrade was finally approved in 2007 the planning officers said that in the meantime the area had been designated as residential. At that stage Starr Gate site was the only one which was in close proximity to the tramway, large enough, readily available and acceptable to the planners. It has always seemed to me that the Starr Gate area is actually more residential than Blundell Street and Rigby Road.

    It was very much a case of Hobson’s Choice.

  14. Steve Hyde says:

    Some of the comments on here mirror the sort of material seen on the Manchester Evening News site when an incident affects Metrolink! The BTO news section normally presents a restrained factual view but in this case it seems to have strayed into the media hype type of presentation.

    It was hardly an earth shattering event that a bit of wind damage was experienced during a storm. A considered decision seems to have been taken to ensure safety until an assessment was made. This seems to represent a sensible action.

    The decision regarding the site of the depot had to be taken on council based on availability of council owned land. If decisions were made on the basis of wind blown sand and salt laden environment the coastal tramway would never have existed in the first place.

    • Nigel Pennick says:

      It would be interesting to use computer modelling to compare the wind damage of this postmodern building with the damage that would have been sustained by a traditional tram depot building at the same site. As to sand, the original conduit electrification of 1885 had to be abandoned because of sand obstructing the conduit and overhead wires erected instead.

    • Phil Hart says:

      At least Metrolink has 2 depots and neither are at the extremities of the network

  15. Gareth Prior says:

    I think we have done this topic to death now so no more messages please unless you have anything ground breaking to add.

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