No link to capital? - ‘plain daft’

The Gazette's campaign to get Blackpool's direct rail link to London back on track. Below: Mike and Maria Gray, from Ramsbottom, near Bury.
The Gazette's campaign to get Blackpool's direct rail link to London back on track. Below: Mike and Maria Gray, from Ramsbottom, near Bury.
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As The Gazette’s ‘Battle Box’ tore its way across the country en route to its final destination, people from all walks of life gave their thoughts on our On Track to the Capital campaign, which aims to restore a direct train service between the resort and London.

The campaign was launched after Network Rail threw out Virgin’s application to run the service, which was set to start in December, by claiming the West Coast Main Line was already too congested.

Mike and Maria Gray, from Ramsbottom, near Bury.

Mike and Maria Gray, from Ramsbottom, near Bury.

Following more than two weeks of collecting signatures from the streets of Blackpool and online, our 5,023 signature petition was handed over to Richard Price, chief executive of the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), on Wednesday.

As reported yesterday, it will now be weighed up with evidence from both Virgin and Network Rail in forming the ORR’s final decision, which will be announced in the autumn.

Retired couple Mike and Maria Gray, from Ramsbottom, near Bury, were waiting on the platform at Preston Station to catch the train to Euston on Wednesday morning.

Mr Gray said: “I would’ve thought they’d have a direct rail service, because there used to be one –I know Virgin wanted to do it.

“Just as an observer it would seem sensible to have a service to Blackpool.”

Mrs Gray added: “It seems plain daft not having a train to Blackpool.

“Not everybody has got cars and for older people especially, we appreciate the trains.”

After a last minute change of platforms sent passengers hurriedly scurrying with luggage to catch the Euston service, Fylde coast residents on board were quick to tout the merits a through service could offer.

Katherine Cane, 30, a Fleetwood Nautical College student, was using the train to travel from the town to her placement in Dover.

She said: “A train straight through to London would be amazing.

“With Blackpool only being just down the road from Fleetwood, a direct rail link would be spot on.

“Blackpool is so busy with tourists that a direct line would help it a great deal.

“It would also be helpful for me because I have to go to Poulton and Preston from Fleetwood to get where I want.

“Getting a train from Poulton to London would be so much easier and cheaper, especially when you consider petrol prices at the minute.”

Businesswoman and mum-of-two Sarah Smith, from Layton, added: “Anything that makes it easier to get into Blackpool would be great.

“I have to go to London every week for work, so from my point of view, it would be so much easier.

“I need to go from Poulton and I know there’s talk of it stopping there if it went ahead, which is a lot more convenient, but they would need to look into the cost because it would be hard for families of four to get here.”

Simon Vincent, 36, from Preston, added: “The link would make Blackpool a lot more accessible for people who want to get to London rather than having to mess about on trains.

“It will help jobs, the people, and add a lot more to Blackpool.

“It will generate business for Blackpool because we it will provide more opportunities for businesses and give the town other industry avenues to go down other than tourism.

“Hopefully it will help the fares on trains to come down if more options are available.”

And Laura Miller, 25, from Carlisle, added: “With working in London there are a lot of benefits of a train link, so when it comes down to that, it’s much easier to get there.

“It would also benefit tourism in general and I’m sure the economy would be much better for it.”

After disembarking, passengers waiting for their trains at Euston station also lent their support.

Sheila Brookes, 60, from the Chester area, was returning home after visiting relatives.

She said: “I would say Blackpool, as a tourist destination, should have a direct link because I don’t know how well promoted Blackpool is down in the south.

“People assume it’s only those from the north that go there on holiday, but people should go there because of the entertainment on offer.”

Elmira Masters, 82, from Kings Langley, in Hertfordshire, was about to set off to visit family in Liverpool.

She said: “I think it’s a good idea because you need to get some more tourists.

“I might go there myself but I don’t think you’d get me on a ferris wheel at my age!”

Martin Berry, 37, from Blackburn, and Ben Barnes, 31, from Burnley, were on their way home from a business trip.

Mr Berry said: “From down here it would be handy for people.

“It must be far easier if you can get on the train here to go there rather than changing at Preston.

“Blackpool is a big tourist venue so a direct train would be useful.”

Once in London, the box toured a number of famous monuments and tourist attractions - including Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament.

Even visitors from half way round the world added their support to the campaign.

The Hartwell family were visiting Buckingham Palace from the USA and said they would be interested in visiting Blackpool if it had a direct link from London.

Erik Hartwell, 40, and his daughter, Alidia, 14, were in the capital from Maryland and were joined by Erik’s parent’s Ieva, 72, and George, 72, from Michigan.

Erik said: “We weren’t heading that way because it would take too long because of the connections, so we are travelling by car to other parts of the country.

“We would be willing to go and see as much as we can if we could get there from London.” Adrian Chapman, 43, from London, was also at Buckingham Palace. He said: “I’ve never been to Blackpool but have always quite fancied it and I think the rail link is a good idea and it would inspire me to go because it’s easier.

“It would contribute to ease of access to other areas of the country and be great for the town.”