A contractor has been appointed to build the “ambitious” first tram line in Preston since the 1930s.
Preston Trampower reached an agreement with Eric Wright Civil Engineering to build the 5.6km long £25M Guild Line, starting with a 1.25km long pilot scheme in the Deepdale area of the city.
Work on the pilot scheme, the first phase of the tramway, is expected to start by March on a stretch of the former Longridge to Preston railway. A second phase is then planned to link the city centre with employment sites on the edge of the city and is subject to a planning application being submitted later this year.
The pilot line will initially be limited to free demonstration rides and staff training, but subject to approval of the plans, it could see fee paying passengers by 2019.
Preston Trampower technical director Lewis Lesley 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.”
Lesley said by using existing rail infrastructure the tramway could be delivered with the minimum of disruption to nearby 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,” he said.
Construction of the pilot line involves reinstating a section of disused railway between Skeffington Road and Deepdale Street. A new tram station, platform and tram shed will be built, which Preston Trampower said would help to clean up the currently derelict and neglected land.
Plans for the line include 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 1.8M tram trips could be made annually reducing congestion and pollution.
The line will use the existing railway infrastructure for most of its length, switching to an LR55 track system which “glues” into the road surface negating the need for large scale excavation work.
Private investment has already been lined up to deliver the infrastructure for the tram service, as well as additional funds for the leasing of trams.
Eric Wright Civil Engineering managing director Diane Bourne said: “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 needs 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.”
Before 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.