Poulton & Wyre Railway Society Proposal for the reopened Fleetwood - Thornton - Poulton-le-Fylde railway line.
The Poulton & Wyre Railway Society (PWRS) have been at the forefront of the campaign to reopen the currently mothballed Fleetwood to Poulton-le-Fylde railway line for many years. During the 2019 general election campaign, the PWRS had the honour of hosting a visit by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
He stated that should he win the general election he would give the PWRS £100,000 towards a feasibility study that would look at options for reopening the railway. This was to come from the Beeching Fund, which was to be made available to groups promoting the reopening of former railway lines recommended for closure in the 1963 Beeching report.
Following the Prime Minister's election win, the PWRS was contacted and informed that we would be receiving the funding for the study as promised. We have six objectives that we feel must be considered and delivered in full if the feasibility study is supportive of reinstatement.
The PWRS recognises that the railway needs to deliver a fast, modern transport solution to the residents of Fleetwood and Thornton and as such have listened to the people that live there. Most important of these is direct access to the national rail network at Poulton station and the larger conurbations of Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds.
Full integration and connectivity are key. Residents are relatively well served by public transport, but in one direction only, Blackpool. While this is excellent for people working in Blackpool, it is restrictive for those that work in Preston and beyond.
Train and Tram Train between them offer flexibility, speed and most of all direct connectivity to the national rail network at Poulton-le-Fylde. Tram Train arguably offers excellent connectivity to the heart of Fleetwood, whereas the train terminates on the outskirts of the town.
The PWRS believe there is room for a short heritage railway, museum and workshop, dedicated to preserving the history of the Preston & Wyre Railway and operating alongside the new commuter line. Our volunteers could also form the basis of a North Fylde Community Rail Users Association and promote use of the new railway going forward.
We should also like to ensure that Alan Hargreaves Plant maintains its presence in Thornton. A growing business employing fifty engineers, the business requires an area to test rail plant & machinery that arrive from all over the country for servicing and maintenance. They could share the heritage line for testing purposes. Without this facility, it is likely that they would consider leaving the area, which would be devastating to those that could lose their jobs.
The PWRS will not stand in the way of progress and is a local community group dedicated to ensuring that the railway remains in place, ready to serve the needs of the residents of north Fylde. Our hard working and dedicated volunteers have twice persuaded Network Rail to leave the track in place.
Lancashire County Council have been chosen to steer the feasibility study and the PWRS look forward to working closely with them.
The Preston & Wyre Railway was opened in 1840 and was the first railway in the world constructed to specifically serve a seaside resort. George and Robert Stephenson were contracted by Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood to build a railway from Maudlands in Preston, to his new dock in Fleetwood.
The building of the railway and new town bankrupted Sir Peter and the line and dock were taken over and operated by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company.
As with most railways, its fortunes ebbed and flowed like the tide however, Fleetwood did become one of the country's premier fishing ports and regular fish trains ran well into the 1970s.
Fleetwood was also the gateway to the Isle of Man and tourists would travel from all over the country by rail to board ships waiting for them outside the impressive station.
While most of the Preston & Wyre Railway is still operating today to serving Blackpool North and Lytham, the section of line from Poulton-le-Fylde to Fleetwood was closed to passengers in 1970, having already been shortened in 1966.
The line was truncated in the late 1980s and the A585 was extended along the former track bed for a short distance in the early 1990s. The truncated line latterly served the former ICI Thornton site at Burn Naze until 1999.
The PWRS was founded in 2006 following the merger of two groups, the Wyre Rail Cycle Partnership (a Poulton Market Town Initiative) chaired by Eddie Fisher and a heritage railway group chaired by Tony Gadd. It was agreed from the outset that the PWRS would work towards reopening the line as a heritage railway while supporting any scheme that would see the line reconnected to the national network and reopened to commuters.
In 2007 the PWRS secured a non-operational lease from Network Rail on a short section of the line between Station Rd and Hillylaid Rd level crossings in Thornton. This lease was secured primarily to clear the former station site of vegetation and rubbish and return what was an eyesore in the middle of the town to something resembling a cared for local railway station. The volunteers quickly set to work and the transformation was incredible. The station has continued to be the PWRS shop window.
In 2008 Network Rail replaced the lease with a clearance licence, a new scheme that was rolled out across the country, primarily for volunteer groups working on Network Rail property. Due to the phenomenal success by the PWRS volunteers at Thornton, Network Rail gradually extended the licenced area to cover the entire line. As a result, the volunteers have cleared most of the line of rubbish and vegetation and restored much of the former station at Burn Naze.
In 2015 a licence based on the Network Rail version (sharing best practice), was issued by Highways England to enable access to the section of line disused at privatisation between the Wyre Way foot Crossing and the A585. The PWRS volunteers have once again transformed much of the site and removed tons of rubbish and vegetation.
The PWRS have amassed a collection of heritage rolling stock and equipment over the last fifteen years which are kept on a private site away from the railway. The volunteers will continue to restore these important historic assets and look after the railway for the foreseeable future.
With a combined population of approximately 49,000, the towns of Fleetwood and Thornton geographically sit on a restricted peninsula and suffer from poor connectivity to Preston and beyond. Fleetwood is served by the excellent Blackpool - Fleetwood supertram network, a modern, frequent and reliable system linking Fleetwood to Blackpool south via the promenade.
Fleetwood is also served by good, regular bus services linking the town to Blackpool via Thornton & Cleveleys, a daytime only bus (number 24) to Poulton and the number 75 to Preston via Thornton & Poulton-le-Fylde.
This service is hourly during the day outside of the peak and less frequent for the rest of the day.
Thornton is well served by the number 14 from Fleetwood to Blackpool, the hourly number 75 and the daytime only number 24. Of these, only the number 14 operates after 1930 hours.
Only the number 14 could be considered as suitable for commuters, as the number 24 only operates after the peak and the number 75 takes an hour and thirty minutes to cover the 20 miles to Preston.
The alternatives are to drive to Poulton-le-Fylde along the A585 and catch the train to Preston and beyond or drive to Preston and beyond, again using the A585. Poulton-le-Fylde station has a 20-space car park (one disabled space) meaning that most commuters park on the already congested residential streets. The A585 is officially one of the most congested roads in England and the section from Poulton-le-Fylde to Windy Harbour is due to be upgraded by 2023. This would still leave three heavily congested sections, which realistically won't be upgraded before 2030.
Outside of the peak, the roads of North Fylde are generally congested and the five miles from Thornton to Blackpool would normally take around twenty minutes, Thornton to Preston, forty-five minutes (16 miles) and Thornton to Lytham around thirty-five minutes (12 miles). It takes around ten minutes to drive between Fleetwood and Thornton.
Over development of the Poulton-Thornton-Fleetwood corridor has led to further congestion and planning applications continue with no sign of a slowdown. The area is a desirable place to live with lots of amenities and is popular with young families and retirees. Low crime rates, good leisure facilities, access to the river Wyre and the beach are making North Fylde very desirable to people wishing to leave the busy cities behind and this is placing even more pressure on our already creaking transport system.
Like many former industrial towns, both Fleetwood and Thornton have seen once thriving industries disappear. Until the 1980s, most residents worked locally for large employers which have gradually moved away and gone out of business. This has left a huge void in employment opportunities and has led to severe deprivation, especially in Fleetwood. Most of the working population must commute out of the area to find work of any kind and due to poor local authority management, national indifference and severe underinvestment, we have been left with a substandard commuter network.
For far too long the public transport system in Wyre has focused on the needs of the transport authorities and this must change. A good example of this is Blackpool Transports number 14 bus. With an excellent fifteen-minute frequency, the bus transports the residents of Fleetwood and Thornton who need to travel somewhere by train to Blackpool North! Commuters in Fleetwood and Thornton need direct access to rail services at Poulton-le-Fylde and don't wish to be driven in completely the wrong direction for half an hour.
This is a prime example of local authorities doing what is convenient to them, rather than what is convenient to the customer.
Due to constant lobbying by the PWRS and others, notably Fleetwood & Thornton Back on Track, Cat Smith MP, Ben Wallace MP and Paul Maynard MP, we have been given the opportunity to support the reinstatement of a rail service to North Fylde.
The Department for Transport have singled out several railways that could be reopened relatively easily and within a short timescale and the North Fylde line fits the criteria well.
The line was disconnected from the Blackpool North line at Poulton-le-Fylde in 2018 during an electrification and re-signalling project, which formed part of the NWEP (North West Electrification Project) Working closely with the PWRS, Network Rail built in passive provision for a relatively simple reconnection. Although simple, a reconnection of any kind will be expensive and a simple temporary separate platform allowing for step free access via a footpath to the main station could be considered a first step, should a reconnection be considered as a blocker to reinstating the line.
Tarn Gate foot crossing is not well sighted from the north end and consideration of miniature red & green lights should be considered for pedestrians. Whistle boards would require reinstatement.
In Thornton are the remains of two level crossings, a Train Man Operated with Barriers (TMOB) on Station Rd and a Train Man Operated with Gates (TMOG) on Hillylaid Rd. Serious consideration should be given to closing Hillylaid crossing to road traffic, at least on a temporary basis if possible. Other options could look to the introduction of a one way system in the area, as it is used as a rat run for traffic trying to avoid using the A585 during peak hours. Steve Turner (Railway Inspector) has already determined that the crossing has serious sighting issues (particularly in one direction) and that closure should be considered by any feasibility study.
Station Road crossing could be converted to a line of sight crossing if Tram Trains were to be used from the start of operations and again this could reduce the initial cost of reinstatement.
If the study determines that heavy rail trains are the way forward, then consideration of complete closure / one way system for Hillylaid would be desired and a full upgrade of Station Road crossing to Obstacle Detector (OD), both monitored by Manchester Rail Operations Centre (MROC) would be required.
The former Burn Naze station is located within the Hillhouse Enterprise Zone and currently has no public access. Consideration could be given to relocating the Station to Butts close, where there is room for a small car park. This would certainly be suitable for Tram Train use, but as a heavy rail start up, consideration should be given to locating a station here later, reducing again the initial cost of reinstatement.
The original Burn Naze station could be reinstated however, some land acquisition would be required for public access and a car park.
A new access road is required for the Hillhouse Enterprise Zone between Burn Naze and the Wyre Way Foot Crossing. A line of site level crossing could be installed if the study supports Tram Trains from the start. If, however a train is considered the initial favoured option, a bridge could be considered as an alternative to a level crossing.
The development of the Enterprise Zone is vitally important to the local economy and close cooperation with NPL Estates through the development and delivery stage of the new railway is of paramount importance.
Locating a Station here should also be considered, as there would be ample space for a car park and the new Station could support the development of the new Enterprise Zone. This could be added at a later stage.
The Wyre Way foot crossing is not too badly sighted however, consideration of miniature red & green lights is recommended. Whistle boards would more than likely be required.
Jameson Road bridge was infilled approximately twenty years ago with polystyrene. At a minimum some work to the deck and supports will be required, although a single line option could mean it requires a lesser amount of strengthening work. A full structural survey would be required.
The initial terminus could be created here, significantly reducing the cost of reinstatement. There is room for a car park and the site is located just off the A585 and would be relatively convenient for drivers. The number 14 bus also runs past the site and consideration of a slight detour into the Station car park could be looked at.
As a terminus, this site should be considered very short term, as it could only very loosely be described as serving the town of Fleetwood properly.
The obvious site for a terminus in Fleetwood is opposite the Three Lights public house just off the A585 and Herring Arm Rd. A heavy rail terminus couldn't realistically be accommodated any further towards the town centre and the site is central to the conurbation of Fleetwood. The main issue here is that the A585 would dissect most of the residential areas and it could realistically only be considered as a park and ride hub for most residents.
This is not to say that park and ride sites are not successful. Horwich Parkway near Bolton is a very well patronised example of the type. Development of good walking routes and new pedestrian crossings would have to be considered, in addition to a good car park and a regular bus link.
This brings us to Tram Trains. These versatile trains could deliver a service to the heart of Fleetwood's shopping areas and the promenade. By making use of a new formation along the centre of the A585, a regular, fast service could take people to Poulton-le-Fylde and beyond, potentially offering a Fylde Coast loop by connecting with the Blackpool - Fleetwood Tramway at either end.
A Fleetwood Promenade to Blackpool Pleasure Beach service via Kirkham & Wesham could be considered in the future, interspersed with a shuttle to Poulton. The installation of a passing loop at Ansdell & Fairhaven could allow for the introduction of a half hourly service along both branches, the Tram Train would share the South Fylde line formation with standard train services to Preston, something a tram couldn't offer.
Admittedly, the capital costs of Tram Train would be the most expensive however, once up and running, this option could be extremely popular. The Sheffield Tram Train trial is coming to an end and with 100% passenger satisfaction rates, it looks like this new and exciting option will be rolled out across the rail network rapidly.
Tram Train should certainly be considered. Yes its expensive and yes it would probably form a stage two or three however, if the infrastructure at Poulton was delivered in such a way as to support Tram Trains in the near future, it could become a reality sooner rather than later.
The former Fleetwood railway line has laid dormant for twenty one years, fifty years to passengers and it is now time to reopen it. For too long the residents of Thornton and Fleetwood have been left behind and things must change. Why should towns like Fleetwood not have good rail connectivity? Why should residents be forced to move away to find good quality work in the Cities of Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, when a rail solution lies dormant on their doorstep.
It is a sad fact that many towns like Fleetwood and Thornton have lost their rail connections forever, fortunately the North Fylde line has survived with most of the formation still intact. Reinstatement of the railway won't cure all the transport problems of North Fylde overnight; however, it will help to ease road congestion that will inevitably get worse. Even if commuters currently use rail, they must drive to Poulton or Blackpool and add to the congestion.
A reinstated railway could offer a genuine choice for the first time since 1970 to regular commuters, students and job seekers. We have an opportunity to change lives for the better by investing a relatively small amount of money into something that can make a huge difference. The railway is only five miles in length and could realistically offer a ten minute trip between Fleetwood and Poulton. This would be a huge step forward for commuters in North Fylde.
Given the economic challenges that will be facing us following the Coronavirus pandemic, it would be reasonable to suggest that we may have to look at a low-cost start up and a service terminating at Jameson Rd could be a realistic first stage. This shouldn't be at the expense of a bigger and better goal however, if the funding is on offer, we must grasp it.
As mentioned earlier, there are some that would like to see the Blackpool Fleetwood tramway extended to a point short of Poulton Station using light rail trams. While better than no option at all, this would not give the residents of Fleetwood and Thornton the direct access to Poulton station that they require. It would also kill off the opportunity to develop a complete Fylde Coast loop, running from Fleetwood Ferry to Blackpool South via Poulton & Kirkham.
This project is about connectivity, this government is about connectivity, which is why the PWRS will ensure that local people get what they need rather than what others think they need. The PWRS look forward to working with other stakeholders to ensure the Prime Ministers wishes are complied with and that he has the opportunity to travel on the first, time tabled passenger rail service to Fleetwood from Poulton-le-Fylde before the next general election.