Rail bosses have left just 20 minutes for replacement buses to get to Kirkham from Poulton during the morning rush hour, a move which has been branded a ‘mistake’.
A fleet of 20 new buses, run by Blackpool Transport, will ferry commuters between Blackpool North and Preston from next month, when four-month-long electrification work gets underway.
Northern said it has timed its temporary schedule after carrying out test runs on the eight-mile route and said it is ‘realistic and accurate’, while Blackpool Transport said it would be carrying out a trial run itself.
But commuters, taxi firms, and MPs have voiced their alarm – and called for a rethink.
Fylde Tory MP Mark Menzies said: “I am concerned that these timings are so tight; Poulton to Kirkham is around 18 minutes in light traffic, and Kirkham to Preston is 22 minutes in light traffic.
“To leave just 20 and 25 minutes respectively for these trips, I suggest, is a mistake, especially when we take into account potential delays on the A583 and in Preston city centre.
It is vital for passengers to have a clear idea of arrival and departure times on the buses so that they can effectively plan their forward journeys.
“I will be writing to Northern to ask them to increase the length of time they have allowed for this bus link, to ensure passengers are given a fair indication of the time it will take between stations.
“It is vital for passengers to have a clear idea of arrival and departure times on the buses so that they can effectively plan their forward journeys.”
One commuter from Cleveleys added: “Northern Rail must be replacing their trains with helicopters because that is the only way you will get from Poulton to Kirkham in 20 minutes during rush hour.
“I understand the line needs upgrading but the replacement bus timetable is not realistic during busy periods. Anyone with a modicum of common sense would have at least undertaken some research and tested the routes to see just how long it takes to drive from station to station, especially during these key times.
“The people of the Fylde Coast are once again the poor relations of the Northern network.
“As long as their big cities, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds are served well then that’s all they are clearly bothered about.”
And a spokeswoman for Premier Taxis said: “It’s do-able but it’s traffic dependent. Our computers generate an estimate time and that says 16 minutes, but it does not take into considerate traffic.
“I would be saying 30 to 35 minutes.”
A spokesman for Northern, which runs the trains, said: “We have worked closely with colleagues from the rail replacement bus companies to devise the proposed timetables.
“We have researched the times taken to travel between the various stations and have carried out ‘dry runs’ at peak times to ensure our timetables are both realistic and accurate.”
The spokesman added: “The rail replacement timetables do not, however, replicate the existing rail timetables. We therefore advise our customers to check closely before they travel to ensure they have enough time to make any onward connections.”
Meanwhile, residents living close to the railway line in North Shore have been told construction traffic will use a different route following a bust-up with Network Rail.
Changes on road and rail: Vital information you need to know
WHAT’S HAPPENING AND WHY?
As part of work to improve rail journeys on the Blackpool to Preston, Network Rail will close the Preston to Blackpool North and South lines from Saturday, November 11 until Sunday, January 28 next year.
The Blackpool North to Preston line will stay shut until Sunday, March 25.
The 17-mile route will be electrified, ‘paving the way for better trains with more seats’, the firm said.
“We’re also improving the track layout and modernising signalling equipments to reduce delays and improve performance,” it said.
“Work includes the replacement of 84 signals and moving the signalling control to the Manchester rail operating centre.
“Blackpool North and Kirkham and Wesham stations will be remodelled as part of our plans to simplify the current layout of the railway.”
HOW WILL BLACKPOOL NORTH TO PRESTON JOURNEY TIMES BE AFFECTED?
Today’s 8.21am train from Blackpool North to Preston will take a total of 27 minutes, timetables showed.It is due to arrive at Layton at 8.24am, Poulton at 8.28am, Kirkham at 8.38am, and Preston at 8.48am.
If the train runs on time, it will take three minutes to get to Layton, a further four to get to Poulton, 10 to get to Kirkham, and another 10 to get to Preston.
On Monday, November 13, the 8am replacement bus is scheduled to take 65 minutes, a booklet given to passengers said.
It is due to arrive at Layton by 8.10am, Poulton at 8.20am, Kirkham and Wesham at 8.40am, and Preston at 9.05am.
If the bus runs on time, it will take 10 minutes to get to Layton, a further 10 to get to Poulton, 20 to get to Kirkham, and 25 to get to Preston.
It will run on the same timetable as the 6.30am train, despite the rush hour traffic.
HOW WILL BLACKPOOL SOUTH TO PRESTON JOURNEY TIMES BE AFFECTED?
Today’s 8.20am train from Blackpool South to Preston will take a total of 39 minutes, the timetables said.
It will stop at Blackpool Pleasure Beach at 8.22am, Squires Gate at 8.24am, St Annes at 8.28am, Ansdell and Fairhaven at 8.32am, Lytham at 8.35am, Moss Side at 8.40am, Kirkham and Wesham at 8.48am, and Preston at 8.59am.
On Monday, November 13, the 8.28am replacement bus is scheduled to take 81 minutes, National Rail’s website said.
It is due to arrive at the Pleasure Beach by 8.32am, Squires Gate at 8.36am, St Annes by 8.42am, Ansdell and Fairhaven by 8.52am, Lytham by 8.57am, Moss Side by 9.09am, Kirkham and Wesham at 9.24am, and Preston at 9.49am.
WILL THE FARES CHANGE?
No. Northern said the bus tickets will cost the same as train fares.
A typical return ticket from Blackpool North to Preston costs £8.70, while a return from Blackpool South to Preston costs £8.
WILL THERE BE FEWER SEATS?
Yes. A Northern spokesman said: “Buses will be operating every 15 minutes in both directions on the Blackpool North-Preston line.
“The buses are a mixture of double deckers/coaches, so will carry reduced capacity. However, as the blockade takes place out of season, capacity should not be an issue on our services.”
WHERE ARE THE BUSES COMING FROM AND WILL THAT AFFECT OTHER SERVICES?
Blackpool Transport won the contract to provide the replacement buses, and have bought 20 new Alexander Dennis buses, managing director Jane Cole said.
They will have ‘added extra features to ensure customers have a great experience’, and will go onto the streets of Blackpool once the railway lines are reopened in March.
Twenty old buses will then be withdrawn from service, she said. The double-deckers will arrive this week, and 13 of them will have two wheelchair spaces.
Seven will have extra luggage racks downstairs, while all buses will have TV screens upstairs and down displaying journey times and adverts.
Each seat has a USB charging point and phone holder, along with a ‘next stop’ bell.
Litter bins have also been included.
“I am delighted Northern has awarded the rail replacement contract to Blackpool Transport,” she said.
“We have the opportunity to turn the disadvantages of not having rail travel between Blackpool and Preston into a really positive experience for customers.
“Our new state of the art buses are fully accessible and customers can tune into the in-house entertainment or use WiFi.
“Customers will be able to see through advertising on the TV screens that Blackpool is still well and truly open for business and have a really comfortable ride”.