Your voice matters. That is the pledge from rail chiefs today to the thousands of Gazette readers who backed our campaign to restore a direct train link to London.
Reporters Alex Ross and David Sharman presented petitions with more than 5,000 names to the chief executive of the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) Richard Price in London.
And Mr Price said the petition will form part of the evidence as the ORR reviews Network Rail’s decision to block the link.
Each one of those signatures belongs to a reader backing our On Track To The Capital campaign, which aims to overturn Network Rail’s decision not to allow Virgin Trains to press ahead with a direct link between Blackpool and London.
Gazette reporters were joined by Blackpool MPs Gordon Marsden and Paul Maynard and Fylde MP Mark Menzies as they handed over 5,023 signatures, a dossier of our campaign reports and a personal plea by Gazette Editor Jon Rhodes to the ORR.
Richard Price, chief executive of the ORR, accepted the petition on behalf of the organisation and will now gather all of the evidence – for and against the link – from Network Rail and Virgin Trains, before announcing a decision in the Autumn.
Mr Price praised Gazette readers support for what will be a vital component in bringing more tourism, business and money to the Fylde coast.
He said: “This petition will form part of the evidence in the process. I’d like to thank the readers of the Blackpool Gazette for their contribution to the On Track To The Capital campaign. This petition clearly shows how important the issue is to the people of Blackpool.
“ORR is currently considering the application from Virgin Trains for new services on the West Coast Main Line between Blackpool and London, this will include looking at the benefits new services may bring to passengers and whether they make best use of the limited capacity on the route.”
The ORR said public support shown in our campaign will be taken into account when making a final decision.
The On Track to the Capital campaign was launched after Network Rail threw out Virgin’s application to run the service, which was set to start in December, by claiming the West Coast Main Line was already too congested.
Following more than two weeks of collecting signatures from the streets of Blackpool and online, our campaign ‘Battle Box’ arrived into London on the 07.58 from Preston.
It visited Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben and Downing Street before arriving at the ORR in Kemple Street, Central London.
Many people we met in the capital backed our campaign and agreed a direct link would encourage them to head to the Fylde coast.
‘Secretary supports our efforts’
Fylde coast MPs said the Government has recognised the importance of a Blackpool to London rail link during a crucial meeting.
Blackpool politicians Gordon Marsden and Paul Maynard joined Mark Menzies, MP for Fylde, to talk with Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport.
The meeting drew on the MPs’ concerns about Network Rail’s decision to throw out Virgin’s application to run a direct line from London to Blackpool because the West Coast Main Line is too congested.
All three MPs were present when The Gazette handed over its 5,023 strong petition to the Office of Rail Regulation in London and Mr Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, says he is “optimistic” of the line being given the green light by the adjudicator now looking at the decision.
He said: “I hope the ORR acts in the interest of Blackpool. I remain optimistic because I don’t think Network Rail’s arguments stack up.
“There was unanimity about the importance of this rail link (in the meeting) and the Secretary of State is in agreement about how important this railway is.
“For an area’s regeneration, transport links are essential and we need that.
“Expectations have been raised and we expect them to be fulfilled.
“The Secretary of State was in listening mode and answering questions, but he was very clear that he was fully supportive of our efforts and he will be making this point to anyone who will listen.”
Mr Menzies also attended the meeting with the Secretary of State, adding: “It was a really constructive meeting.
“The Secretary of State fully appreciates how strong the feeling is in Blackpool and on the Fylde for getting the link established.
“He made clear that he would be writing to the regulator to offer his support for the direct link to be introduced.”
Mr Menzies also stressed the impact the restored service could have on Fylde’s rural communities.
He said: “I’m so keen for that train to stop at Kirkham and Wesham because it’s important that rural Fylde gets the benefit of a direct rail link.”
Gordon Marsden, Labour MP for Blackpool South, said: “We pressed them very aggressively on the detail, particularly on the issue of how they had calculated not having this rail link. It was a very civilised meeting and I think it has given us some food for thought, subsequently with the transport minister and ORR.
The MPs applauded The Gazette’s campaign as they helped to hand it over to Richard Price, the chief executive of the ORR.
Mr Menzies, said: “The Gazette has helped to galvanise public opinion and without the efforts of The Gazette our jobs as politicians would be made that much harder because it would be difficult for us to demonstrate the strength of public feeling, and for that we are grateful.”
Mr Maynard added: “The Gazette has done a great job in co-ordinating it and enabling so many people on the Fylde coast to have their say.”
Mr Marsden said: “It’s a classic, strong local campaign which has included all the elected representatives in the area and all the locals to make the strong point that we don’t think Blackpool should be left off the map, or the Fylde coast generally, and we will keep pushing.”
TOMORROW: Your views and those from Londoners keen for the Blackpool rail link.