'˜We need two trains an hour'
A fresh call has been made for a passing loop to increase frequency on the South Fylde rail line '“ as statistics show passenger numbers have almost doubled over the past decade.
South Fylde Community Rail Partnership chairman Coun Tony Ford says the combination of the sharp increase in demand and hundreds of new homes set to be built imminently in the area means more frequent services than the current one train an hour are more vital than ever.
With line improvements taking place and even some new stations being built around the North West, Coun Ford maintains it is a realistic hope.
And his call is being backed by Fylde MP Mark Menzies, who said the introduction of a passing loop is a ‘no-brainer’.
The call comes on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the track through Lytham and St Annes being reduced from double to single track – and ahead of the line, which runs from Kirkham to Blackpool South, being closed completely for the best part of three months from November while the Preston to Blackpool North line is electrified.
Once the South Fylde line opens again late next January, the single track hourly service will resume while the Blackpool North line enjoys much-improved services.
Kirkham and Wesham is the only South Fylde station set to benefit, with new features including an additional platform, passenger lifts and step-free access.
Coun Ford said: “We urgently need a more frequent service from Fylde to Preston where travellers can pick up important connections for journeying elsewhere in the country.
“With the current hourly service, passengers can end up with a long wait at Preston station, either for a connection further afield or for a train back to Lytham or St Annes.
“And with the increase in the number of houses being built right across Fylde and lots more in the pipeline, the additional capacity is vital to get people to work.
“In addition, the Enterprise Zone at Squires Gate will be creating jobs, attracting people to work on the Fylde coast, so more frequent connections with the rest of Lancashire and beyond are crucial.
“But that extra capacity can only come from a more frequent service with two trains per hour instead of one.
“Also, recent roadworks on Clifton Drive show just how easy it is for St Annes to become gridlocked so alternatives need to be put in place and quickly.
“While it won’t quite be as simple as putting in points and a few hundred metres of additional track, a passing loop would be a relatively low-cost solution to a problem that has dogged the line for a long time and I don’t think it is too much to ask.
“It would be good to think that following the electrification work on the Blackpool North line, a better junction at Kirkham might well herald a stronger push for its installation and I have written to Mark Menzies who is a current member of the Transport Select Committee as well as Paul Maynard, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Transport, along these lines.”
Statistics on the independent ABC Railway Guide website show that passenger numbers on the line through Fylde to Blackpool South rose from just over 20,064 in 2007 to 38,915 in 2015, the last year for which figures are currently available. A rise to more than 38,000 in 2012 – when the Open Golf Championship was last staged at Royal Lytham and St Annes and shuttle trains to the tournament operated to and from Ansdell and Fairhaven station – was followed by a fall to 34,924 in 2013.
Passenger numbers rose again to 36,596 in 2014 and further the following year.
Mr Menzies said: “At present, we have an hourly service that misses connections to London-bound trains by minutes, rendering the Blackpool South line useless to those looking to travel on from Preston to the capital.
“It is simply easier to drive to Preston and get on the train.
“A passing loop would increase the frequency of the service on the line at the end of which, let’s not forget, is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country, Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
“In the grand scheme of things, this would involve a relatively small-scale amount of money for a huge increase in passenger numbers.
“It is a no-brainer.”