Ambitious plans to install a tram system through Preston could ease the city’s congestion chaos, its designers have claimed.
The brains behind the Preston Guild Tramway proposals say major progress is being made with works on a pilot line due to start by the end of the year.
And they say a full tramway - with 12 stops across the city - could be in service for 2019, drawing hundreds of cars off already congested routes.
Director of Preston Trampower, Prof Lewis Lesley, and colleagues have been on site this week making traffic calculations at key junctions before final plans are submitted to city authorities.
He said: “It will have a major impact (on congestion). 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.”
The Guild line would have 12 stops, running from Preston Railway Station up to junction 31a of the M6, with a further congestion-busting park and ride system pencilled in.
Planning approval for a pilot project utilising pre-existing but disused rail track in Deepdale was given planning approval last year.
Preparatory works on the less than one mile stretch are due to start imminently and is being treated as a significant landmark.
Petros Price, a transport expert attached to the tramway project, said: “The pilot study will include a depot and a short section of tram line and a road crossing.
“That is to start training tram drivers to get them familiar with the operating system and that side of things.
“After a long time, it’s finally getting there. It’s giving us a new impetus to getting the permissions for a commercial service.
“We will soon be negotiating with highways agencies regarding the service and the exact location of stops and stations.”
Throughout this week, Prof Lesley and Mr Price have been conducting tests on how a tram would impact traffic at busy junctions, including the interchange at Church Street and Ringway.
A ‘bendy’ bus has been hired in place of a tram, giving a glimpse of what the new service would entail.
Mr Price 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.”
Prof Price added: “It will have an impact as we’re not factoring in those using a park and ride for Deepdale Retail Park. The tramway will alter the dynamics of the transport network.
“We need to satisfy ourselves that it can operate safely and effectively, without disrupting other traffic, so that’s why we have commissioned this survey of key traffic junctions.”
Preston has featured in lists of the most congested cities in the UK in recent years, confirming what many motorists have known for years.
With the city in such close proximity to the M6, major routes are often affected by the knock-on impact of motorway incidents and congestion.
For example, a fire on the junction 32 section in December was ranked as one of the UK’s worst traffic jams of the year with 10 hours of disruption. More recently, a combination of a serious accident on the M6 and malfunctioning traffic signals in the city centre caused huge tailbacks across the city earlier this month.
Local authorities, working alongside the private sector, have invested millions into easing the county’s traffic problems. In particular, City Deal has enabled the Penwortham and Broughton bypasses to become a reality.
Prof Lewis Lesley said: “Government policy is for trams should have priority over other traffic at road junctions, This is usually achieved by trams getting an immediate green signal.
“Without this we have calculated that there will be a passenger delay on average of 25 minutes per tram having to wait a turn for a green traffic light. We’re looking for full service in 2019, a phased service at first we’ll do the pilot line then we’ll go out to the M6 and then come into the city centre. There’s definitely progress being made, we’re very positive and we’re meeting every two weeks because so much is happening.”
Turbulent history of Preston’s tram project
• Preston’s tram plan dates back to 2010 when it was mentioned as part of the doomed multi-million pound Tithebarn Project.
• Since then it has gone through various planning stages and knockbacks, including reports a tram purchased as part of the scheme has been gathering dust in storage for several years.
• An application for the pilot scheme was initially rejected by the city council but then approved after a re-submission in 2016.
• The stops are designed to allow easy access to Deepdale Retail Park, the University of Central Lancashire and Deepdale Stadium.
• City centre locations will also be near Fishergate shopping centre and County Hall, running from the station down Fishergate.
• The masterplan has been estimated to cost £19m with private operators reportedly lined up once full planning permission has been achieved.
• It includes significant upgrades to footpaths, lighting and greenery along the route.