The first pendolino train to visit Blackpool has carried out a series of overnight test runs ahead of the launch of three new services a day to the resort.
And to celebrate, Virgin Trains has created a 5m long sand sculpture of one of the famous tilting trains on the beach.
Made from two tonnes of Blackpool sand and 43 buckets of seawater, the sculpture took over six hours to build – double the journey time between Blackpool and London.
The first visit of the Pendolino trains to Blackpool North, part of a route testing exercise, was early on Tuesday and came ahead of launch of Virgin Trains’ 36 new services next Monday.
The introduction of the new services follows the completion of Network Rail’s work to electrify the line between Blackpool and Preston and lengthen platforms at Blackpool North station to allow the longer Pendolino trains to travel to and from the seaside.
This is the first time the long-distance train operator will serve Blackpool with its electric-powered Pendolino trains, since it reintroduced direct services between the resort and London in 2014.
The new services will strengthen connections to and from the capital six days a week, providing eight direct services each weekday and five services on a Saturday.
Virgin Trains is also set to operate a direct service from Birmingham on Saturdays, offering 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 wanted to share our excitement as our Pendolino train makes its first trip to Blackpool with a Pendolino sand sculpture.
“We have been proud to serve the seaside resort over the past three years and as we’re investing to deliver additional services we wanted to give a glimpse of what visitors can expect – from our iconic Pendolino trains to the famous Blackpool Tower.
We look forward to welcoming people onboard the new services and playing our part to boost the local communities and spread opportunities along the route.”
Gillian Campbell, Deputy Leader of Blackpool Council, said: “The sand sculpture is a brilliant way of marking the arrival of Virgin Trains’ Pendolino trains into Blackpool. We are thrilled at the prospect of additional services linking the resort to London, Birmingham and other towns and cities on the West Coast route.
"These new direct services will give visitors the perfect opportunity to jump on a train and sample for themselves the joys of our beaches, attractions and world-class events.”
Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said: “The first visit of one of Virgin’s Pendolino trains to Blackpool is a landmark moment and I am very much looking forward to the beginning of passenger service next week.
"It is good to see the £255m investment in our railway being put to good use. Virgin is offering thousands more seats every week, which will not only provide better connections for local people but will make it easier for visitors to make the journey to Blackpool.”