A 200-metre stretch of disused railway track between Skeffington Road and the West View Leisure Centre in Ribbelton will be transformed into a demonstrator line, which Preston Trampower hopes will be testing the technology by Easter next year.
If those trials are a success, the plan is to create a three-mile ‘Guild Line’ running from Redscar, close to junction 31 of the M6, all the way into the heart of the city’s revamped university quarter - taking in Ribbleton and Deepdale along the way.
That development, along the former Longridge railway line, would require separate planning permission - but if it is secured, one of those leading the proposed £25m project believes that the city could see its first tram service in 85 years by early 2022.
“I think the people of Preston would be over the moon to see our beautiful trams up and running,” said Lincoln Shields, from Preston Trampower.
“I believe it would be very attractive for passengers to arrive via tram, make use of the facilities in the new university square and then walk along a revamped Friargate and into the city centre.
“Preston is one of England’s fastest-growing cities and a modern tram system would deliver huge benefits, unlocking economic growth and offering safe, clean and reliable transport.”
Under the plans, six trams would run between 12 stops at six-minute intervals. Much of the route would operate on existing railway infrastructure, but specialist track would have to be laid at points where the vehicles travel along the road network - although significant excavation work would not be needed.
However, Mr. Shields told the Post that his ambition for the privately-funded project extends far beyond a single stretch of track - revealing his hopes that the Guild Line will be the key to unlocking a series of other other tram routes which could spark a transport revolution in the city.
“The first would be to head south of the railway station along the line of the old Lancashire and Yorkshire railway, using the existing bridge over the Ribble, which is wide enough to accommodate two tram tracks and the current footway and cycle path.
“That would then head down towards new housing developments in South Ribble, in the direction of Bamber Bridge and Lostock Hall - housebuilders in that area are very keen for their developments to be serviced by a tramway.
“There could also be a spur off that to the Capitol Centre park and ride - meaning trams could effectively replace that bus service.
“We’re also planning another line going west across the river into Penwortham and the dock area, utilising a disused bridge.”
Mr. Shields, who was involved in the delivery of the first phase of the Manchester Metrolink as a former construction company director, said he took heart from the recent publication of the upgrades required to Preston railway station to receive trains that have run on HS2 further south.- which would not affect a long-term hope for trams to service available platforms. That would give high-speed train passengers arriving in the city the option of accessing the wider area via tram.
Although the Ribbleton demonstrator line will not be permitted to run commercially, “interested parties” will be permitted to get on board - subject to Covid restrictions at the time.
The Post also understands that an exhibition to inform and enthuse Prestonians about the wider plans will also take place next year.
Proposals for a Guild Line tram service date back a decade and are referenced in the city’s local plan. Now-expired permission for a demonstrator line was previously granted in 2016.
At that point, the scheme was derailed by land ownership issues, but these have now been resolved by combining the test track route with work to an adjacent cycleway, for which a provisional agreement has been reached between the city council and Network Rail.
The test line will involve the laying of new track, erection of masts and overhead cables and the construction of a station platform.
In granting permission for the demonstrator line, planning committee member Jennifer Mein praised Preston Trampower’s “persistence in coming forward with proposals”.
Lincoln Shields says ten years of trying have not dented his belief in the project - and, on this occasion, he is more hopeful than ever that it will finally leave the sidings.
“This time around we have got to make it happen - and we have got a lot of things going in our favour.
“We will prove to people that this can be done.”
PROPOSED GUILD LINE STOPS
***Redscar (M6 footbridge)
***Deepdale Retail Park
***West View Leisure Centre
***St. Paul's Road
***Robeburn Hall Terminus
18,000 - number of residents living within half a kilometre of one of the proposed tram stops.
12 - number of stops along the planned Guild Line route.
1.8m - estimated annual tram trips made, based on the planned frequency of the service