Virgin presses for direct rail link dream

Virgin Trains high speed tilting Pendolino
Virgin Trains high speed tilting Pendolino
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Blackpool’s dreams of a direct railway link to the capital are still alive, train operator Virgin Trains said today.

The company which runs intercity services on the North West main line confirmed, a year on since the idea was mooted, that it was still keen on bringing back a direct service rather than having passengers changing trains in Preston.

Virgin had applied for two trains a day to run directly to Blackpool last March slashing the journey to London to three hours, but the plan was knocked back by Network Rail who feared there were already too many trains on the West Coast Main Line.

Virgin appealed but that was rejected by the Office of Rail Regulation despite a 5,000 name petition in a campaign organised by the Gazette called On Track to the Capital.

A spokesman from Virgin Trains said today: “We remain fully committed in our desire to introduce new direct services from Blackpool to London.

“Our original application was declined by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) as you know due to Network Rail’s concern over capacity on the West Coast Main Line.

“Discussions with various industry partners are still ongoing.”

Both Network Rail and the ORR said in July that performance and punctuality would be adversely affected by two direct services to the resort added on to an already crowded timetable.

However, as Network Rail is investing millions in improving the service between now and 2014 there may be more capacity and Virgin re-applied to have service, which last ran in 2003, to be reinstated.

Phil Bearpark, production director for Virgin Trains, said as the company prepared a second bid for a direct service last August:“The people of Blackpool have made clear the importance of this rail link to businesses and tourists and we share their view that it will provide a significant boost to the economy.”

A spokesman for Network Rail said: “The West Coast Main Line is one of the busiest stretches of line in Europe with more than double the amount of trains running along it than 10 years ago.

“On such a busy railway, introducing extra trains is not easy to do without impacting punctuality of other trains using the line. However Network Rail will continue to work with Virgin Trains to look at the possibility of direct services between Blackpool and London.”