One year ago today, Blackpool’s capital dream got back on track.
The tourism capital of the north was linked once more to that of the south with a direct rail service.
The resort had been shunted into the sidings in 2003 when through trains from Blackpool North to Euston were ended and people forced to change at Preston.
But after a 15-month campaign by The Gazette backed by more than 5,000 readers, and lobbying of ministers, a direct connection was launched on December 15 2014. The first train at 5.27am saw dignitaries and business leaders get the VIP treatment, complete with town crier and VIVA showgirls, from Virgin Trains to celebrate the first step into getting a service which would serve business to help boost the local economy but also could eventually lead to an easy route to entice more tourists from the south to Blackpool as in the good old days.
Since then Alliance Rail Holdings, through Great North Western Railway run by Arriva, has been given permission to run six return services to either Euston or Queen’s Park weekdays and five on Sundays, starting in 2018.
One year on and Virgin’s two direct trains a day, 5.25am to London and 4.33pm from Euston, are well used according to Virgin.
The train operator said it had seen a growth in journeys to Blackpool since its direct service was introduced.
It said customer journeys between Blackpool and London increased by six per cent over the past year – since Virgin Trains extended its services from Preston.
Anna Doran, General Manager Anglo Scot route at Virgin Trains, said: “We’re really pleased with how the Blackpool service has performed in its first year.
“After years of campaigning for direct services between Blackpool and London it is great to see our service has been a success and people are making use of it.
“We would like to thank the people of Blackpool for their warm welcome and supporting us over the last year.
“We have really enjoyed bringing the Virgin Trains experience to Blackpool and look forward to welcoming many more people on-board soon.”
Coun Gillian Campbell, Deputy Leader of Blackpool Council, said: “It has been great to have Virgin Trains back operating in Blackpool this past year.
“The direct service is invaluable for encouraging both business and leisure tourism in Blackpool. We look forward to building the relationship with more direct services in years to come.”
The Virgin Trains service from Blackpool North departs at 5.25am, arriving at London Euston at 8.34am. The service from London Euston departs at 4.33pm, arriving into Blackpool at 7.28pm.
So are the dawn trains really being used? Before dawn on a drizzly Monday morning yesterday, 21 intrepid souls gathered at Blackpool North station to catch the early bird train to London.
A further eight got on at Poulton and a similar number at Kirkham. At Preston more than 20 were waiting to board the London train.
Anthony Bailey from North Shore, 27, a computer engineer, was heading for central London.
He said: “It seems to be quite well used. Most days I have been on this train I reckon the passenger numbers are in double figures.
“The more get on as you go down the line to Preston, Wigan and beyond. Sometimes it can really fill up. It is an early start but it gets you in to London in plenty of time to travel across if you work away from Euston. The only thing is some people find it hard to get the 4.33pm train because they finish work at 5pm.”
Stephanie Morris from Bispham was heading for a meeting in Westminster.
She said: “I have been told it is busier than previous early services from north Lancashire.
“It gets you into London in time to start at 9am. Luckily I can get away early enough to get the tea-time train back.
“The best thing is that you don’t have to change at Preston. I know that disabled people find crossing platforms at Preston difficult sometimes so a direct service is better.”
Hugh Evans, deputy chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, which has an office at Squires Gate, said: “One year on and it’s looking like the service is proving beneficial to people travelling to London.
“That’s good news for travellers looking to spend time in the city.
“We now need to make it easier for visitors travelling to Blackpool and means looking at an early morning service from London to the town that not only runs during the week but at weekends too”.
Fylde MP Mark Menzies said: “I campaigned hard to get the direct route to London, via Kirkham and Wesham Station, re-instated and am delighted to hear it has been a successful link.
“Many local companies do business in the capital and having a regular service which arrives into Euston at a reasonable time ensures people are able to get to important meetings. I have used the service myself on a number of occasions and find it much easier to embark from Kirkham than driving to Preston and leaving my car there.
“With the increased services and new rolling stock announced by the Department for Transport as part of the improvements to the northern franchise last week, it is a great time for rail in the area.”