Virgin submits fresh Blackpool to London link plea

Electrification schemes have helped boost small firms.
Electrification schemes have helped boost small firms.
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Virgin Trains have launched a second bid to for a rail service between Blackpool and London, The Gazette can reveal.

The rail giant has announced a fresh application to run twice daily services between the resort and the capital from May 2014, after its initial bid was refused by Network Rail, a decision which was upheld by the Office of Rail Regulation last month. The new bid has been launched on the back of Network Rail’s pledge to improve performance on the West Coast Main Line by May next year.

The Gazette Rail Campaign logo

The Gazette Rail Campaign logo

Virgin says if that promise is kept, concerns over overloading the line will no longer apply.

Last month, the ORR turned down Virgin’s plan to revive the link, which was cut in 2003, citing Network Rail’s original assertion there wasn’t enough capacity on the West Coast Main Line.

That was despite more than 5,000 Gazette readers signing our On Track To The Capital campaign to see it restored.

The ORR criticised punctuality and performance on the line as it is. But Network Rail has said it is undertaking a programme of improvements with a target of May 2014 – and Virgin believe that should remove the obstacles NR and the ORR set out.

NR is investing nearly £40m in a series of projects aimed improving the reliability of infrastructure and train punctuality on the West Coast Main Line,

Phil Bearpark, Virgin Trains’ production director, said that although disappointed with the decisions by Network Rail and the ORR he remained committed to providing the direct train services.

He added: “The May 2014 timetable changes are 10 months away and we expect Network Rail to significantly improve performance by then. The people of Blackpool have been absolutely clear about their desire to have a direct train link with London, an ambition we fully support and are working very hard to achieve.”

“We have continued to work with Network Rail to ensure that they improve performance. It is now down to them to ensure that they honour their commitments on this and for the ORR to hold them to account.”

A Network Rail spokesman said: “We will continue to work to improve punctuality for our customers and have always said that if performance does improve, additional services might be something we could consider again in the future.”

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