Rail services between Blackpool and Preston look set to see a “step change” in 2020, according to one of the bosses at train operator Northern.
Chris Jackson, regional director of Northern, acknowledged that the past two years had been a “bumpy ride” with delays and cancellations blamed on the over-running of electrification work, and problems with staffing at weekends.
But he said as the £500m investment in the 195 and 331 trains comes fully on track in 2020, passengers would see improvements.
He said the franchise runs just under 3,000 services each day, which means that one in four trains in England is a Northern service.
It has 459 trains in the fleet, one of the most diverse train fleets among all operating companies in the UK.
He said: “That number has been rising recently as we introduce our new trains.
“Northern manages 478 stations including Blackpool North and South and Manchester Victoria, and we have 6,387 employees, a very large employer in the region with well paid, stable jobs. We have grown that number by 1,000 since we took over the franchise in 2016. We have 200 members of staff alone in Blackpool.”
He said by the end of the year they expect to have looked after 109 million passenger journeys in 2019.
He said the roll-out of the new fleet of electric and diesel trains, which are built in Spain, but assembled in Newport, was progressing despite recent supply issues in Spain, and by spring more than 95 per cent of trains in Blackpool will be new ones.
“They are a step change from what we have been used to.
“When the time table changes on December 15, every single train for Blackpool North to Manchester Airport will be from our new trains.”
He said the Blackpool North to Hazel Grove service would be six car services and the Blackpool to York will have three car new trains from December.
“We have our three and four car trains already running from Blackpool to Liverpool. The new trains are fully accessible which is really important.
“From January next year Blackpool South will see all refurbished 150 or 156 trains, which have greater capacity than the old Pacers which are now being taken out of service.”
He said Northern was striving to improve performance and said they were working to find a solution the recent problems of staffing Sunday services which has led to cancellations.
“It has been a bit of a bumpy ride, for various reasons and not without its challenges.”
But he said they were 68 per cent complete with training drivers on the new trains.
He also said Northern was investing millions into its stations.
He said they were investing £250,000 in “community Rail” and he praised the work volunteers had done on the South Fylde line.
He said they were looking to work with community groups to keep stations in good condition and wanted to hear from groups to become station adopters.