Battle rages over rail link to London

FirstGroup train
FirstGroup train
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A CAMPAIGN for a government re-think over rail operators who plan to open a direct Blackpool to London line is gathering pace.

More than 100,000 people nationwide have signed a petition asking for a review of the decision to award the West Coast mainline franchise to FirstGroup.

If a petition on the Government website gets more than 100,000 signatures, it could trigger a debate in the House of Commons.

But Paul Nettleton, chairman of Blackpool and Fylde Rail Users Association, says it would be wrong for the government to change its mind.

FirstGroup is replacing Virgin after outbidding Sir Richard Branson’s firm, which had run the route from London to Glasgow for the last 15 years – but didn’t send trains direct to Blackpool. Instead residents of the Fylde had to change at Preston.

Mr Nettleton, of Ballam Road, South Shore, said: “FirstGroup winning the franchise is the best thing that could have happened to the town because Virgin has had every opportunity to bring the London trains direct to Blackpool and they have done nothing about it.

“The reason they wouldn’t bring the London service through from Preston to Blackpool is because the line isn’t electrified.

“All it needed to sort that was to put a diesel loco on the front but they weren’t prepared to do that.

“Ever since Ryanair stopped its service from Blackpool Airport to London we’ve been out on a complete limb.

“So I hope this online petition doesn’t succeed.”

FirstGroup has pledged to restore the Blackpool to London link by December next year, and promised to up the number of services to five per day by 2016.

Vernon Barker, managing director of FirstGroup’s UK rail division, insists the new direct route is “good news for Blackpool and a massive boost for the town”.

But the petition against the decision to axe Virgin – which had also pledged to restore Blackpool’s link to the capital – shows there are plenty against the idea.

Gordon Marsden, Labour MP for Blackpool South, said: “I’ll believe the Blackpool to London service when I see it.

“The reality is no service will improve times until electrification.”