BLACKPOOL'S iconic trams face an uncertain future as they stop running for the first time in their history on Monday.
There are fears today they could end up off the rails permanently unless the Government comes up with more cash.
Essential maintenance will close the line from Starr Gate to Fleetwood for five months – but that work will be an 11m "white elephant" without more investment, the resort's transport chief has warned.
Blackpool Transport and Blackpool Council have a joint bid awaiting approval which could pave the way for more than 77m in funding for a total upgrade of the tracks and its trams.
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Blackpool Transport managing director Steve Burd said if the resort failed to win the bid the trams could stop running for good.
He added: "This is the biggest amount of work we have ever undertaken on the tram network.
"We will get the track up and running again by Easter but this is essential work which needs to be carried out.
"Much of the track we are working on is reaching the end of its life expectancy.
"The work strengthens the argument for the Government to provide the rest of the funding for the tramway upgrade.
"Unless future funding is forthcoming then in the long term the work we are carrying out over the next five months will be a white elephant.
"There is money earmarked for the project but we are awaiting approval from the Government. Until then we have to carry out these repairs.
"If we fail to get the money then there is a chance that the trams could stop running in Blackpool."
While other towns have ditched them in favour of modern networks, the resort kept faith and kept millions of visitors coming to the town.
The illuminated trams are still a popular sight during the Lights season and events like Fleetwood’s Tram Sunday bring millions of pounds into the Fylde.
A legion of tram enthusiasts still continue to follow their plight and with Blackpool getting ready to celebrate 125 years of the service in 2010, one fan is hoping now is the time that the resort embraces the future without forgetting the past.
Lancashire Tram Trustee, Philip Higgs, a former worker on Blackpool’s tram system said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for Blackpool to celebrate its significance as Europe’s first electric tramway and act as a tourist draw.
“By the time this winter’s work is completed, 70 per cent of the tracks will be maintained, which will help maintain tourism in Blackpool next season and possibly the one after.
“The current tramway system will mirror the trends being experienced by the town’s tourist market.
“Year on year we are seeing less people coming to Blackpool. Less visitors equal less tram passengers which will undermine the business case for a year-round Super Tramway.
“There are still an awful lot of tram enthusiasts out there who all share the same concerns, namely how to keep the system running and providing and enjoyable experience for everyone.
“What Blackpool is very unique for is the iconic 1930s trams and the council and transport bosses must not forget this.
“While I think that we should modernise the system, it is also essential that we maintain some of the older trams.”
This is an option which has already been confirmed by the council, which today said town hall bosses would continue to run the heritage trams should this current bid be successful.
Paul Growcott, project manager at Blackpool council, said: “The intention is not to scrap the old trams. We will run the heritage trams, but they will have to become disabled passenger-friendly.
“We are currently looking at a number of European manufacturers for trams should the bid be a success.”
Blackpool North and Fleetwood MP Joan Humble said: “It is important that this winter maintenance work is carried out.
“I have been in touch with Blackpool Transport and have had assurances that extra buses will run while the trams are out of service.
“Our tramline is not just valuable to the visitors, but also for the residents so it’s vital that this funding is made available.
“Like many of the resort’s regeneration projects, this upgrade will take Blackpool to the next level and bring more people into the resort.”
They have done so for 122 years so who is to argue with that?
And who can argue that Blackpool’s much-loved transport icon is not deserving of the long-awaited, yet to materialise, 77m cash pot from Whitehall?