VIRGIN is set to restore its direct train service from Blackpool to London, The Gazette can reveal today.
The West Coast Mainline operator has submitted a bid to run two direct return services between the resort and the capital.
The first trains will depart Blackpool North at 6.36am, arriving at London Euston at 9.33am.
The second service departs at 2.03pm arriving in London at 4.54pm.
Return trains are 10.33am arriving at Blackpool North at 1.35pm and 7.33pm arriving back in Blackpool at 10.18pm.
All services will stop at Kirkham and Wesham station.
If backed, the first direct services will be up and running by December – 10 years since the last direct Virgin service left Blackpool North station bound for the capital.
Today, commuters, business leaders and rail users hailed the news as a fantastic boost for the resort.
Paul Nettleton from the Fylde Rail Users Group said Virgin had kept its promise.
He said: “This is the best Christmas present we could wish for. When Virgin were re-awarded the franchise after the mix-up, they said they were going to re-introduce direct services to London. They have so fair do’s.
“The times are good news for shoppers and business people. It is tremendously important for Blackpool - you have to have direct links to the capital, which we haven’t had for a long time.
“If Blackpool wants to keep regenerating it must have regular direct links. However, Virgin is not putting on as many trains as First Group said they were going to do when they were awarded the franchise by the government before the mix-up. They were going to have five a day. Nevertheless it will be good news if the plans are accepted.”
Once electrification of the line between Preston and Blackpool is completed in 2015 Pendolino trains could run straight thorough to the capital.
Virgin was allowed to continue running the West Coast Main line until November 2014 after the Government scrapped its decision in October 2012 to award it to First Group after a mix-up in the tendering process. Mandy Tythe-McCallum, tourism manager for Visit Blackpool, said: “It would help Blackpool massively. When we talk to people about conferences they talk about the ease of access.
“The motorway connection is great but the majority want to use the train.
“Business people are busy people and want to work on the train. They do not want interruptions to change and even waiting 15 minutes at Preston can be off-putting for some. A three-hour direct connection will make Blackpool a more attractive place when it comes to attracting conferences.”
Martin Long, chairman of the Blackpool Business Leaders Group, said: “It’s great to see the potential return of this service. It is what Blackpool has been crying out for for some time. It will encourage businesses which need to go to London and combined with the ongoing electrification on the line it will hopefully mean quicker journey times for commuters.”
Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard said: “It is essential that Blackpool has a direct link to London to make sure we have a growing economy.
“However we must make sure if the proposal is agreed that we use it to the full.
“It is for the people of the town, the council, business and economic regeneration groups to think how we can make best use of a direct connection so that Virgin continue to keep it in service.”
Claire Smith, President of Stay Blackpool, believes a direct rail link could bring more business and political conferences to the resort.
She said: “It would be absolutely wonderful. We know we’re losing business as a result of not having a direct rail link.
“We’ve been begging for a direct rail link especially as the conference and corporate trade people are put off knowing they’ve got to change between London and here.”
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden gave the news a guarded welcome.
He said: “It is a very encouraging opening proposal but we need to see the detail on what rolling stock are going to carry through these through and how confident Virgin are that they can keep to the three hour timescales for the journey times.
A spokesman for Virgin said: “By December this year we would like to run two daily direct services to Blackpool. We have submitted the proposal to the Dft, Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation.”
If granted, the trains would start running in December when the new timetable comes into force.