Crowded, out of date and far too expensive

Commuter train stopped at Blackpool North station
Commuter train stopped at Blackpool North station
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Crowded, out of date and too expensive.

These are the complaints levelled at the trains used by hundreds of commuters each day to get to and from work or school - but at least they are punctual.

As the government looks to invest billions in the controversial HS2 scheme, which will reduce journey times between Manchester and London, there are fears the rail links to the Fylde coast are being forgotten.

Packed trains take people from Blackpool and the surrounding area to cities like Preston, Manchester and Liverpool on a daily basis, leaving many questioning why the operators refuse to put on additional carriages.

And the latest fare hike, announced earlier this year, has led to claims the region’s commuters are not getting value for money.

Stephen Brookes, chairman of the Blackpool Passenger Focus Panel, said the planned electrification of the line between Blackpool and Manchester will do little to ease the problems faced by commuters.

He said: “We are getting second hand rubbish again. They have decided we don’t deserve a decent service.

“We are getting units from the First Capital Connect service, between Bedford and Brighton, that were introduced in 1987.

“There will be three coaches instead of the two at the moment but they will still be crammed to the doors and they are going to be old models anyway.

“We are getting units that are nearly 30 years old while London is getting new ones.”

And one of the major issues Fylde coast campaigners have been pushing for - a direct service to London - has repeatedly been overlooked in recent overhauls of the rail network, he said.

Mr Brookes added: “We are still going to have to change at Preston. When I go to London I get back to Preston at 8.15pm and I have to wait until 8.50pm to get a train.

“I am disabled and that is too long to have to stand in the cold, when the waiting areas are closed.

“Blackpool gets a pretty bad deal - we are treated like cattle.”

Regular commuter Charles Patrick agreed that many of the trains that serve the Fylde coast are well past their best

Mr Patrick, who travels between Kirkham and Warrington three times a week, said: “I always catch the same train and it is always packed.

“The 7.25 train from Kirkham is even busier.

“You wouldn’t believe the sheer number of people that get on and off at Preston.

“It does beg the question why it is only a two-carriage train.”

But it can be prohibitively costly to alter the number of carriages on a train, he said, and there isn’t the same demand outside peak hours.

He added: “That’s why the massive Virgin Pendolino trains to London are just as big on a Sunday - it’s more expensive to change them.

“Obviously the rail company knows what it’s doing.

“I would think they make all the money during the day from the commuters. The economy of it must be very interesting.

“It costs the same for them whether there’s on person or a full train so it’s in their interests to keep it as full as possible.

“But in terms of punctuality it’s fantastic - I can only think of a couple of times when it has been cancelled.”

And although rail bosses came under fire again at the start of the year for raising season ticket prices, cash has been put aside for improvements along the Fylde coast.

Blackpool South station is set for a makeover, with thousands of pounds being used to help deter vandals and improve the facilities.

Network Rail is also investing in electrifying the track between Blackpool and Preston, which it claims will boost the economy by allowing for quicker and more frequent services.

Meanwhile, plans to reinstate a direct train link between Blackpool and London stalled last year when Network Rail said the route was too crowded.

However, operator Virgin, backed by campaigners and The Gazette, remains hopeful of reviving the dream in the future.

But some commuters have been left wondering if they will see any of the benefit of the billions of pounds due to spent on the network over the coming years.

High Speed Two (HS2), which will slash journey times between Manchester and the capital, has split opinion, with many people questioning the true cost of the scheme to the taxpayer.

And earlier this month the government announced work was underway on the £600m Northern Hub project it claims will create up to 20,000 jobs and bring billions to the regions economy.

A spokesman for Network Rail said: “The £400m electrification programme, combined with the £600m Northern Hub upgrade, will provide benefits to passengers across the north of England, including those travelling to and from Blackpool and the Fylde coast.

“It will help to deliver a more resilient and reliable service, with more capacity and seats for passengers. The £1bn being spent across the north of England is a significant investment and complements our ongoing commitment to provide a safe, reliable and efficient railway.”

But there are genuine doubts that Blackpool and the rest of the Fylde coast will notice much difference.

Mr Brookes said recent bad weather across the country had magnified the flaws in the rail network and questioned the sense in spending vast sums of money on new projects like HS2 while the existing infrastructure is struggling to cope.

He added: “When the network is so susceptible to weather damage it seems pure folly to pour money into questionable projects like this.

“What is the point of throwing money at HS2 when the existing system is so flawed?”

“And Blackpool South isn’t even going to be electrified so what happens there?

“We are getting the rough end again.”

A Northern Rail spokesman said: “We want to provide our customers with newer and better trains. As electrification spreads throughout the North West, we continue our discussions with the Department for Transport on the implications of providing trains to operate on newly electrified lines.”

“Investment is being made in the Blackpool area to help improve our customers’ experience both on our trains and at our stations.

“CCTV, a new waiting shelter, planters and additional cycle storage are among the improvements being considered by a partnership including Northern Rail, Network Rail and the South Fylde Community Rail Partnership.”

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