Blackpool’s exploding tram behind rejection of ‘cheaper’ option

A Trampower carriage on fire in Blackpool

A Trampower carriage on fire in Blackpool

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TRANSPORT chiefs have finally revealed why they did not take up an offer to complete Edinburgh’s scheme all the way to Newhaven – and pointed to an exploding tram in Blackpool.

The Evening News revealed last month that light-rail company Trampower had offered to build the complete line to Newhaven within the same £776 million budget while causing less disruption.

But council officials have now highlighted an incident in a 2007 trial of Trampower vehicles, when one developed a fault and burst into flames, as one of the reasons the bid will be going no further.

Today, Trampower’s technical director, Professor Lewis Lesley, hit back by claiming the tram fire was “industrial espionage” and that it was irrelevant as it involved a vehicle rather than the track.

Councillor Gordon Mackenzie, the city’s transport leader, however, was adamant the city has made the right decision.

He said: “For contractual and technical reasons, I do not think Trampower’s offer is credible. We are in a contract with Bilfinger Berger and Prof Lesley knew that when we spoke to him.

“On the technical part, the [Trampower] LR55 rail is pretty unproven. They have had a small short section in Sheffield for years but no-one else has adopted that.”

Regarding the Blackpool tram fire, Cllr Mackenzie said: “What Trampower are proposing is track, not vehicles, but they have made claims in the past about being able to deliver vehicles and clearly that has been shown to be problematic for them, so it casts doubt on other claims they have given.

“I’m not writing it off because they have had problems with vehicles, I’m just saying it does not give sufficient confidence in what they can deliver.

“Frankly, the lack of substantial evidence that this would work in Edinburgh, on top of the contractual position, means it is not a credible option.”

City leaders only said at the time that they took the view that the construction consortium headed by Bilfinger Berger remained “best suited” to build the Edinburgh tram system

But it is now understood that officials have carried out extensive work into Trampower’s ability to provide the deal.

Prof Lesley today insisted that his figures were realistic – and said the fire in Blackpool had nothing to do with the proposals for Edinburgh, where the company wanted to build a track rather than the trams.

He claimed that the fire was down to “industrial espionage”, and added: “158 cars catch fire every day in Britain.

“If anybody is worried about a tram fire, which is very rare, they ought to not worry as it is more likely they’ll have a fire in their car.” Prof Lesley proposed an “LR55” track that he said would result in much less of the road needing to be dug up, as it lays a large kerb that the tram track effectively sits in, meaning virtually no utility diversions would be needed.

BRUM DEAL FOR CAPITAL FLEET FIRM

The Spanish firm that built Edinburgh’s tram vehicles has been chosen to build a fleet for the Midlands.

CAC was responsible for building the 27-strong fleet of Edinburgh trams lying in storage at Gogar and West Lothian while officials press ahead with getting the scheme back on track.

The firm has now also been named as preferred bidder for the new Midland Metro, to supply up to 25 Urbos 3 trams in a deal worth in the region of £40 million.

The deal has been agreed following a decision to extend the tram line by nearly one mile in Birmingham.