Blackpool Belle puts resort on track for direct service to London
Blackpool is now back on track.
The first of Virgin’s Pendolino trains to link the resort to London rolled effortlessly into the resort to be greeted by Blackpool’s town crier Barry McQueen.
As the much-awaited, new, national rail timetable got under way, somewhat shakily with many services, there were no hiccups for the first of the high-speed, tilting trains which will carry thousands of visitors to the sea-side.
And the second train of the day to arrive at platform one had a special connection with the town and was given a proper resort welcome complete with dignatories, fish and chips and ice-cream.
The Pendolino has been named the Blackpool Belle, chosen as the most popular name in a competition run on the Gazette’s website.
The name harks back to the services that used to bring Lancashire workers to the resort for a night of dancing at the Tower Ballroom and Winter Gardens and which was immortalised in song by the Houghton Weavers.
It was also the name of the illuminated tram in the shape of a Mississippi paddle steamer which used to run on the prom in the 50s.
But now the name heralds the arrival of faster, cleaner more modern electric trains to Blackpool North after the massive upgrade project carried out by Network Rail.
The new services will strengthen connections to and from the capital six days a week, providing eight direct services each weekday, five on a Saturday – an additional 16,900 seats a week. A direct service from Birmingham on Saturdays will offer the West Midlands a direct service to Blackpool for the first time in 15 years.
Michael Stewart, general manager at Virgin Trains on the west coast, said: “At Virgin Trains we’re really pleased to welcome Blackpool Belle to our Pendolino fleet, as we introduce our iconic Pendolino trains to the Blackpool route for the first time.
“We have been proud to serve Blackpool for the last three years and are excited to reach this milestone, as we strengthen our links to and from the resort with our Pendolino trains, which have helped to transform our west coast route.
“The name ‘Blackpool Belle’ is pertinent – it provided opportunities and firsts for the resort – which is what we hope our investment to deliver additional services will bring to local communities along the route.
“We’re sure our new services will help bring more visitors to the seaside resort to explore what it has to offer - just as the Blackpool Belle did over 50 years ago.”
Martin Gurr, general manager of Heritage Operations at Blackpool Transport, performed the unveiling of the plaque on the side of the new train. When he is not driving Virgin pendolinos, Martin heads a team of 60 volunteers that operate and crew Blackpool’s heritage trams that run along the Promenade.
He said: “People love coming to Blackpool and it is a buzz when they see the Tower for the first time. It is a great pleasure to be here to unveil the Blackpool Belle.”
Bryan Lindop, head of heritage and chairman of Blackpool Heritage Trust, said: “This is a fabulous example of teamwork and joined up thinking which supports a world class transport experience.
“With the completion of our tramway extension to North Station in the not too distant future and these wonderful new pendolino electric train services, Blackpool is firmly back on the map and very easily accessible. ‘Blackpool Belle’ is a wonderful reminder that as well as cutting edge technology, Blackpool is steeped in rich history and with engaging heritage experiences for all ages.”
Coun Gillian Campbell, deputy leader of Blackpool Council, said: “We are really excited. The additional direct services to London, Birmingham and other towns and cities give visitors the perfect opportunity to jump on a train and sample for themselves the joys of our beaches, attractions and world-class events.
“Direct is important because although the change at Preston might not be too bad for many people, if you are a visitor staying for a week, loaded down with bags and buggies , or not easily able to use the stairs to change platforms at Preston it is really frustrating.
“It will make a massive difference not only back and forward to London, but all the other place on route.”
She said the new trains would be good for business people and residents too heading south.
Also at the reception for the Blackpool Belle was John Barnett, founder of Radio Wave and the Blackpool Business Leadership Group with his wife Danielle.
Danielle, who uses an electric wheelchair due to having MS, said she was delighted with the new electric trains.
She said: “This is just amazing. The facilities are fantastic, I have tested out the ramps and there is plenty of room.
“I have not been able to use a train for the past three years so I cannot wait to use the pendolinos. Virgin have special facilities to help too. It is great for Blackpool and for disabled people in particular.”
Mr Barnett said: “It is just amazing. These services area something we and so many others have been calling for for years and now they are here.
“I am pleased for all the people who lobbied so hard for so long.
“What is also important to Blackpool is attracting the conference trade and these direct services will make a huge difference in the minds of people who organise conferences in the future.”
Town crier Barry McQueen was also delighted with the new trains.
He said: “It’s great for Blackpool, it will make a big difference to people travelling to and from the town.
“I am particularly pleased they have called this train the Blackpool Belle, because that is the name of my canal boat at Garstang.”