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Community Railroad ?

Community Railroad ?There seems to be something of a race going on in South Fylde - or if not a race, at least a competition. For a while now, a movement has been, well, moving, to develop something called a Community Rail Partnership on the South Fylde Railway Line that runs from Blackpool South through St Anne's, Lytham and through to Kirkham before landing up at Preston, where what is known as the 'West Coast Main Line' runs past.

The reason it 'runs past' is that the trains on the main line are 'electrified' whereas the South Fylde line is not, so it has to have a different sort of train, which is why people from London have to wait (and change) at Preston before getting to St Anne's.

That's also why the railway enthusiasts, and sensible people, would like the South Fylde line electrified - you could then go to lots more places without always having to change onto a different train at Preston.

Of course the downside of this is cost . Electrification is expensive. It's undoubtedly the best way, and what needs to be done, but - at least at the moment - it's pie in the sky.

In the post-Beeching era, we've been sidelined. Literally. Not only that, but in lots of places, what was once an up and down line system has had bits sold off, so now it's only a single track line which, for the most part means only one train movement in one direction at time.

So as second best option, a group of local people have picked up, and are promoting, a government plan to designate this line a Community Rail Line.

Sounds pretty innocuous, doesn't it? so what's it about.

Well, The Department for Transport says that the aim of Community Rail Development is "putting local and rural railways on a sustainable basis for the long term, so that they can continue to offer a vital service for passengers and freight and can contribute more to the local economy, as well as to meeting government targets on accessibility, the environment and social inclusion."

Hmmmmmm

We're beginning to get a bit suspicious here.

It doesn't get any better when you realise the DfT wants such schemes to "double the number of passengers using these lines, and cut the subsidy by a third"  (The emboldening is ours)

So someone else is gong to have to be chucking money into service then are they?

Do you get the feeling this is going to be another of those things where Government (and this seem to be where our Commissar gets his ideas from) is retreating rapidly from service delivery and, like the old railway advert, letting others 'take the strain.'

As we have seen others ask.... didn't the railways used to be a government responsibility rather than a local self-help exercise?

But that's where it's going.

These Community Rail Partnerships are organisations to "help involve people in their local rail services". The aim is that everyone plays an active part in their system, including train operators, Network Rail, local authorities, local employers, development and tourism agencies, community and other local groups including rail user groups.

In most cases they are "staffed by a paid worker who is supported by all these stakeholders". (Don't you just love that word?) and, of course, it's not as though we aren't paying their salary already through national taxes, ticket prices, Council Tax, VAT and so on, is it?

Anyway, the DfT has started the process off with a draft prospectus, and as long as this is supported by all the bodies concerned then it is likely the Minister will give his seal of approval, and the line will be designated a Community Rail Partnership from Kirkham North Junction to Blackpool South.

 We gather the official launch will be around 17th May.
 

However.

A fly has just appeared in the ointment in the shape of another Government emanation.

Readers will have seen the fuss being made in the Gazette by Re:Blackpool - (the Mission Impossible company more or less owned by Blackpool Council - but without the democratic accountability) that is going to regenerate Blackpool. (mostly by building houses in Fylde if they and their Growth Point Bid can get away with it).

They've just picked up £60 million of Government funding to upgrade the tramway, with another £25 million coming from Blackpool and LCC. This, according to the Gazette, would include 16 'super trams' that would be able to run on the tram tracks and the railway.

The plan is to let people ride the tram from Fleetwood to Preston along the South Fylde line, and another £5 million is going to be applied for to undertake trials to see if it can be done.

Blackpool are so excited about this idea that the top man from Re: Blackpool, Sir Peter Hall, has stepped down as Chairman of that organisation to drive this scheme forward.

By 2012, they hope to have some prototypes up and running, and will demonstrate their ability on both tracks by lifting them off the tramway and placing them on the railway line (We guess that will involve a couple of cranes and a lorry). Having done that, they hope to get another £50 million from Government and Europe to do the joining up bit, somewhere near the Pleasure Beach.

They say that once the bid is in place, they will have consultations with the (proposed) Community Rail Partnership.

But all in the garden is not rosy.

The Blackpool and Fylde Rail Users Association are miffed at this idea.

They think the trams will hold up the scheme to use faster trains on the South Fylde Line, and that it will also delay even further the possibility to have it electrified.

So they don't want the tinny trams downgrading the status of the South Fylde railway line still further.

We're inclined to agree.

We think it would be better to continue the push for and toward better, faster trains and most especially twin track electrification, rather than to settle for a tram system.

We think this because we believe our long term interest is likely to be better served by a direct link with London, (and the money and investment that would flow from it)  than it would by linking us more closely with Fleetwood or Blackpool.

So it will be interesting to see who wins out in this tussle.

There is one other angle of course, and that's the airport.

Rumours are rife that Pontins has been sold. We know not to whom - if indeed the rumours are true. But if it were to turn out the airport that had bought it with a view to developing something of a railhead there, that might complicate the issue still further.

One thing we can be sure of is that there will be more news about this rail/tram line over the coming months, and we'll bring it to our readers who like to keep on track of local news.

Dated:  26 March 2008 


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