LIVE BLOG: Gazette rail campaign heads to the capital

Blackpool Gazette reporters David Sharman, left and Alex Ross ahead of delivering a 5,000 strong petition to rail regulators in London for a direct rail link to the capital

Blackpool Gazette reporters David Sharman, left and Alex Ross ahead of delivering a 5,000 strong petition to rail regulators in London for a direct rail link to the capital

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Today The Gazette’s reporters take our fight to restore Blackpool’s direct rail link with London to the heart of the capital.

Since we launched our On Track To The Capital campaign last month, the response from readers has been phenomenal – more than 5,000 people have signed up in paper and online.

The Gazette's campaign to get Blackpool's direct rail link to London back on track. Below: Mike and Maria Gray, from Ramsbottom, near Bury.

The Gazette's campaign to get Blackpool's direct rail link to London back on track. Below: Mike and Maria Gray, from Ramsbottom, near Bury.

Now, with two days until the deadline for submissions for the appeal against Network Rail’s decision not to allow the direct link to be restored, we are making your voices heard in London.

Reporters David Sharman (follow David on twitter) and Alex Ross (follow Alex on twitter) are in the capital to deliver our petitions straight to the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), the body which will take the ultimate decision on whether the link will go ahead.

And in this live blog, they will document every step of their journey, right up to handing our thousands of petition names over.

Virgin Trains first announced its intention to restore the link, which would provide two direct return trains per day, in March.

Gazette reporter David Sharman on the train to London with the petition signatures.

Gazette reporter David Sharman on the train to London with the petition signatures.

But last month Network Rail rejected the plans, saying extra trains would hit performance on the crowded West Coast Main Line.

In the wake of that, we launched our campaign, arguing a direct link is vital for passengers, business and tourism across the Fylde coast.

As our reporters update you throughout the day, please add your comments on our campaign below – and look out for full coverage on our campaign in Thursday’s Gazette.

7.36am - We have made it to Preston station and are ready to go to London!

Gazette reporter Alex Ross outside Buckingham Palace with our rail petition.

Gazette reporter Alex Ross outside Buckingham Palace with our rail petition.

7.50am - Just had our platform changed at the last minute. What a nightmare for people from Blackpool carrying luggage.

7.58am - On route to the capital!

9.00am - We are an hour into our journey to London. The petition box is safely stored in the luggage rack and we will shortly be speaking to Fylde coast passengers about why Blackpool needs a London rail link.

9.15am - Speaking to passengers about lack of direct train from Blackpool to London. “Plain daft”, the verdict of one lady from Ramsbottom.

Gazette reporter David Sharman at Downing Street with the petition signatures.

Gazette reporter David Sharman at Downing Street with the petition signatures.

9.56am - Just spoken Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, who is meeting transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin this lunchtime to discuss the issue before the big handover of our petition

10.00am - We have found some Fylde coast passengers travelling down to the capital for business. Katharine Cane, 30, (cor) is studying at Fleetwood Nautical College and uses the service to help her get to a placement in Dover. She said: “I’ve had to get the train from Poulton this morning and it’s crazy. “A train straight through to London would be amazing.”

10.25am - Arrived at Euston.

12.00pm - At Buckingham Palace. Just spoke to the Hartwell family from the USA, who say they would be encouraged to visit Blackpool if it had better transport links.

1.00pm - Been touring the box round Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Downing Street and Parliament. Just an hour until we hand it over to the Office of Rail Regulation!

1.40pm - We have arrived at Holborn Tube Station and are making our way to the Office of Rail Regulation HQ to meet with MPs Gordon Marsden, Paul Maynard and Mark Menzies.

2.20pm - Just handed over the petition to Richard Price, chief executive of the Office of Rail Regulation, with Fylde coast MPs Gordon Marsden, Paul Maynard and Mark Menzies. Mr Price praised The Gazette’s campaign and said he would weigh up the support alongside evidence from Virgin and Network Rail. A decision will be made during the Autumn.