Resort hit by raft of new summer rail closures

Passengers have been suffering from months of delays
Passengers have been suffering from months of delays
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Blackpool’s hopes for extra holidaymakers from London on direct trains have been hit by the news of a new closure of the West Coast Main Line.

Network Rail has confirmed that work at North Wembley junction will need the line to be shut on August 18 and 19, the bank holiday weekend, August 25 to 27 and the weekend of September 1 and 2.

That would make for difficult seaside journeys for anyone from the South East to the Livewire Festival on the Bank Holiday and the Illuminations Switch-On and Britney Spears concert.

The news comes as one Blackpool MP has said compensation for the rail chaos is too little too late and Blackpool Council Leader has called for compensation for businesses hit by a reduction in passenger visitors.

Coun Blackburn said at full council that estimates showed visitor numbers were down due to the problems and cancellations following the introduction of the May timetable and over-running of Network Rail’s electrification scheme.

No official figures could be provided but Gordon Marsden said he had been told anecdotally that they were 15 per cent down.

Coun Blackburn said: “Roughly the numbers of people who come to Blackpool on the train are missing from the statistics.

“I and the leader of South Lakes District Council have both made the point that businesses have been hit very hard indeed.

“There should be a compensation scheme.”

He said he was also worried about the impact on visitor numbers later in the year.

He said: “I’m worried people are now planning their October holidays.

“They (the operators) need to put a date on this about when it should be fixed.”

Rail bosses have confirmed after a Transport for the North summit meeting on Thursday that passengers will be compensated for cancellations and delays.

Season ticket holders on the worst affected Northern services in Lancashire, Cumbria and Greater Manchester, who experienced disruption before and after the May timetable change, will get equivalent to up to one month’s travel. Other rail users affected will get a week’s pay. Both are in addition to normal compensations.

Rail bosses also said: “Marketing campaigns for the tourist areas affected by the disruption, such as Blackpool and the Lake District will be funded as part of the package.”

Rail minister Jo Johnston said the emergency reduced timetable until July 29 had brought some stability and allowed passengers to plan ahead. He said some rail services to South Lake District would return this week.

He said in a letter to MPs: “There is still a long way to go until performance is good enough, however, and we are working closely with Northern and Network Rail, alongside Transport for the North, to ensure all steps are taken to enable passengers to see further improvement in the reliability of services over coming weeks.”

But Blackpool South Labour MP Gordon Marsden criticised the offer and said any effects were in danger of being wiped out by rail closures later this summer including the shut-down of the West Coast Main Line and the nine day closure of the Preston, Chorley, Manchester route.

He said: “It is all too little too late. Given the damage that has been inflicted both on our visitor economy in Blackpool and also the stress and strain put of rail passengers in Blackpool.

“The other thing that is not included in Jo Johnston’s letter is the damage to the Blackpool visitor economy that is likely to be done by the three weekend closure of the West Coast Main line in August and the effect the further nine day closure covering a period when the Illuminations are on.

“I questioned Martin Frobisher, Network Rail’s director responsible for the routes out of London to the North West about the impact on the Blackpool routes and the failure to publicise alternative routes to Blackpool to which he admitted the need to manage expectation about alternatives in case they became overcrowded.

“That is not acceptable, at a time when Virgin Trains are trying their very best to increase the number of people coming to Blackpool from London on the West Coast line.”

Network Rail confirmed that no trains will run from Euston on the three weekends later this summer and advised people to avoid travel wherever possible on those dates “as services will be diverted and are expected to be busier, and take longer than usual. Queuing systems will be in place at some stations, and bus replacements may also be used.”

John Cridland, chairman of Transport for the North, said: “Northern has assured our members that the interim measures taken are allowing them to work towards delivering a restored timetable service by the end of July.

“We now call for a detailed compensation package for those affected. This should certainly include season ticket holders. The board also recognised and discussed the losses suffered by passengers and businesses.

“The very prosperity of the North of England depends on a resilient and reliable transport network. We remain united in pursuing solutions to the current crisis which delivers this for northern citizens.”

Blackpool Council’s Conservative opposition leader Coun Tony Williams said: “Certainly the visitor numbers will be affected by the dismal state of the train services but there is no mention of how many people are now arriving on the alternative bus service.

“I also think that the dreadful state of the town, what seems to be daily changes of centre traffic routes and combined congestion is also a major contributor to both local and regional visitor footfall.

“If the council are looking for compensation they also have to share some of the contributory cost to local businesses. However, the distribution of any potential compensation would fall into the hands of this council and that’s a worrying thought.”

Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard said he had been working hard to let people know that trains were running and Blackpool was open for business.

He said: “It does our town no good to keep talking about chaos on the railways. The fact is performance has improved and passengers are able to reach Blackpool by train. I am keeping up the pressure on Northern to improve punctuality and to restore the full timetable but it does Blackpool no good to keep talking down our rail link. I am concerned that the continued operation of rail replacement buses, at the request of the local authority, is sending the wrong message.

“I have made clear to Northern and Network Rail the importance of publicising that Blackpool is open for business and I have received a commitment from both companies to work together to support the town and help people travel with confidence. I hope we will see this delivered across the region very soon to the benefit of business in Blackpool.

“I recognise the impact the rail disruption, coupled with the large scale construction work in the town centre, has had on small businesses and how important it is to support them. I am pleased Northern will be providing a great deal of free publicity for Blackpool’s major events this summer and I believe resort businesses will benefit from this campaign.”