An ambitious project to bring tram services back to Preston for the first time since the 1930s has moved a step closer with the appointment of a contractor to build the proposed £25m Guild Line.
Preston Trampower Ltd has reached agreement with Eric Wright Civil Engineering to build the 3.5-mile tramway, starting with a 1,250-metre-long pilot line in the Deepdale area of the city.
On 9 January 2018, both parties signed a memorandum of understanding to develop the scheme during a sod-cutting ceremony on the tramway site.
The first stage of the project will see the pilot line built on a stretch of the former Longridge to Preston railway with work expected to get underway by March 2018.
A second phase of the line which aims to link the city centre with employment sites on the edge of the city is subject to a planning application being submitted this year.
Whilst the pilot line will initially be limited to free demonstration rides and staff training, the service could welcome its first paying passengers as early as 2019 if the plans are approved this year.
Professor 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.”
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 pilot line will see a length of the former railway between Skeffington Road and Deepdale Street reinstated. A new tram station, platform and tram shed is being built, helping to clean-up the currently derelict and neglected land.
Under the longer-term plans for the Guild Line, the service would have 12 stops on key sites in the city including Deepdale Shopping Park, Preston North End FC’s Deepdale Stadium, and later the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).
Six trams would run at six minute intervals for most of the day and Preston Trampower forecast that 1.8 million tram trips should be made annually on the Guild Line, reducing congestion and pollution.
It would utilise existing railway infrastructure for most of its length, switching to an LR55 system where it meets the road network. The LR55 track system ‘glues’ into the road surface and doesn’t require large-scale excavation work.
Preston Trampower has already lined up private investment to deliver the infrastructure for the tram service, as well as additional funds for the leasing of trams.
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.”
The Guild Line sod-cutting event was held at the Preston Muslim Girls High School in Peel Hall Street, which sits adjacent to the planned tramway. The event was attended by directors of Preston Trampower and Eric Wright Civil Engineering, as well as local councillors and community representatives.
Prior to the Second World War, Preston was the tramcar building capital of Britain with manufacturers like Dick, Kerr & Co and English Electric making cars for tramways around the world.
Tram operations in Preston came to halt in December 1935 when the final tram journey between Fulwood and Preston took place.