Rail bosses today said they are working to free up capacity by 2016 in a bid to allow Virgin Trains to introduce new services between Blackpool and London.
Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation – the adjudicator which denied Virgin a contract to run the new service earlier this year – have raised the possibility of changing their minds in the “medium term” if more space can be found on the congested West Coast Main Line.
And Virgin Trains says it is also undertaking work on how capacity can be freed up, with an earlier target of 2014 in mind.
The ORR told Virgin Trains in August they could not start running a service from Blackpool to London in December because too many trains were already operating on the route. The news came after The Gazette’s On Track to the Capital campaign which saw more than 5,000 Gazette readers back our campaign.
Virgin was told there was no space for their new service on the West Coast Main Line – but the possibility of more space becoming available is still being investigated by Network Rail.
Today a spokesman said: “At the moment we have 12 different operators on the West Coast Main Line and introducing even more services is proving difficult.
“We are looking at creating space in the medium term but in the short term our position hasn’t changed and we said ‘no’ to the line and the ORR backed us up.
“Virgin is one of many operators and in the last 15 years what they have done is increase the number of passengers and trains on the same infrastructure and there has come a time when the line is pretty much full.”
The spokesman said NR’s medium term target for freeing up capacity was 2016.
It comes after the ORR has previously vowed to look into congestion by putting pressure on Network Rail to improve performance on the West Coast Main Line and therefore allow extra services to be run.
A spokesman for Virgin Trains added: “In an ideal world we would have wanted to start in December and have two services.
“We are upset this is not going to be possible now and are making sure we get hold of the next best thing, which is the May 2014 timetable. By working with Network Rail we can make the improvements to performance so the trains could run next May.”