A £25m deal has been reached between the bosses of Preston's ambitious Guild Line tram project and a contractor.
Preston Trampower Ltd says Eric Wright Civil Engineering is now on board to build the long-awaited three-and-a-half mile route, starting with a 1,250-metre-long pilot line in the Deepdale area of the city.
A sod-cutting ceremony for the pilot line took place on Tuesday, January 9. Representatives from both organisations signed a memorandum of understanding.
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Prof Lewis Lesley, technical director for Preston Trampower Ltd, said: “To have such a prestigious local contractor on board is another huge vote of confidence in this project.
“We’ve all seen how the Manchester Metrolink has been instrumental in the growth of that city and I have no doubt that a Preston tram system can provide a huge shot in the arm for the city’s economy.
“We’ve put years of hard work and detailed research into this project. By utilising existing rail infrastructure, we can deliver this tramway with the minimum of disruption to residents and motorists. While only a small section of track is being built initially, we’re confident the full Guild Line can soon become a reality.”
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Trampower has previously received planning permission for the test track, which will be used for training purposes and demonstration rides, and plans to submit an application later this year to gain approval for the entire project.
Bosses said private investment "to deliver the infrastructure for the tram service, as well as additional funds for the leasing of trams" is already "lined up."
And the service could welcome its first passengers - if planning approval is granted - in 2019.
The pilot line will be a 1,250-metre-long stretch through Deepdale using disused but existing rail tracks. Work is expected to start in March.
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Diane Bourne, managing director of Eric Wright Civil Engineering, added: “Signing this memorandum of understanding is an important milestone and reassures the people who live and work in Preston that the new tramway is coming.
“As a local contractor with a strong heritage across Preston, we’re very proud to be leading the project. We’re looking forward to starting on site and delivering a quality scheme that meets local need and that the community can be proud of.
“City centre tramway projects are proven to bring numerous benefits and we’re aiming to replicate this same success within Preston.”
The brains behind the tram project have long argued it could provide the answer to the city's congestion problems. The Guild Tram route will see 12 stops, including including Deepdale Shopping Park, Preston North End FC’s Deepdale stadium, and later the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).
It would be the first time trams have operated in the city since the 1930s.
Lincoln Shields, director of Preston Trampower Ltd, added: “The Guild Line tram will be a fast, frequent and convenient way for people to reach the city centre without having to fight for a parking place.
"The chronic level of congestion in the city centre, and the health-threatening toxic traffic air pollution will be eased by pollution-free trams.”