Blackpool could be on track to see more tourists and business visitors after Virgin Trains revealed it was launching 35 additional services a week between London and the resort next month.
The new timetable announced today is being described as a “step change” for Blackpool returning direct services to key parts of the country.
The company which operates the West Coast Main Line franchise is preparing to introduce the longer, faster tilting trains from May 21 following electrification of the route by Network Rail.
The services, ahead of Blackpool’s peak tourism season, will strengthen connections to and from London six days a week, providing eight direct services each weekday and six services on a Saturday.
It follows Virgin Trains’ move to reintroduce direct rail services to London in 2014 which was only interupted by the major works on the line to Blackpool North since November.
The extra weekday services between Blackpool North and London Euston (three northbound and three southbound) will also call at Rugby, Warrington Bank Quay, Wigan North Western and Preston.
And as well as the five Saturday services between Blackpool and London (two northbound; three southbound), Virgin Trains is set to operate a service from Birmingham on Saturdays, offering the West Midlands a direct service to Blackpool for the first time in 15 years.
The boost in services will generate an additional 16,900 seats a week as the seaside resort welcomes three new major attractions – ICON (the UK’s first double launch rollercoaster); elephant house at Blackpool Zoo; and Marvel Comics super-heroes attraction at Madame Tussauds.
This is the first time the long-distance train operator will serve Blackpool with its electric-powered tilting Pendolino trains, following 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 trains to travel to and from the resort.
Testing of the infrastructure is due to take place over the coming weeks in the run-up to the launch of the first services. Coun Gillian Campbell, Deputy Leader of Blackpool Council said: “We are delighted that the completion of the electrification project is bringing immediate benefits.
“The introduction of these new Virgin services connects Blackpool to the two largest cities in the country – and that can only be good for the leisure market, business tourism and potential inward investment.
“It brings a real step- change in connectivity for Blackpool.”
Peter Broadley, executive director of customer, operations and Safety at Virgin Trains on the west coast, said: “We’re really excited to be strengthening our links to and from Blackpool with our Pendolino trains. Since introducing a direct service between Blackpool and London over three years ago, journeys have continued to grow and we would like to thank the people of Blackpool for their support.
“We look forward to welcoming people on-board the new services when they launch and helping boost the local communities we serve along the route.”
Martin Frobisher, route managing director for Network Rail’s London North Western route, said: “During the closure we’ve worked round-the- clock to upgrade and electrify the line to provide passengers with better services on this important route. Rail journeys to and from Blackpool will be transformed with more seats and services and I would like to thank passengers who have remained patient with us throughout the upgrade.”
Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said: “The additional services are indeed good news and a welcome boost to the local area.
“I know local people have had to put up with a lot of disruption with these improvements, but with more trains to London and elsewhere, running on electric lines, speeding up journey times and reducing noise, I think this will prove an opportunity to increase business and visitor numbers in the town and the wider Fylde Coast.”
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said he had reservations about how the work on the Blackpool North Line had progressed so far but welcomed the extra direct services from Virgin.
He said: “There may yet be a period of trains running at reduced speeds to start with, that remains to be seen, but once it is under way then journeys to London in around two and a half hours will be a huge improvement.
“It is great to have this commitment from Virgin to eight direct services on weekdays and six at the weekend to London.”
Blackpool-based Stephen Brookes, who is the rail sector champion for disabled people, welcomed the Virgin trains and other improved electric services to Blackpool North which are set to follow.
He said: “The new Virgin services are a thrilling development that is going to see Blackpool back on the main rail system as it used to be back in 1990.
“The services will entice people back on the system to Blackpool. Direct services are going to be a huge improvement and avoid that horrendous change at Preston. We will later get a through electric service to Liverpool and Wigan which will also be a fantastic boost fro Blackpool”
The new services will stop at Rugby, Warrington Bank Quay, Wigan North Western and Preston. Virgin Trains reintroduced direct services between Blackpool North and London Euston in December 2014 – with one northbound and one southbound diesel service on weekdays.
The 05.30 Blackpool North – London Euston and 16.33 London Euston – Blackpool North will continue to serve Kirkham and Wesham and Poulton
The lack of Pendolino stops at Kirkham and Poulton has disappointed some travellers heading for London who will have to use the existing diesel direct service or go via Blackpool North or Preston.
Network Rail shortened the Poulton platform as part of the upgrade meaning it would be unsafe for longer trains to stop there.