London will be just three hours away if, as expected, direct services are restored between Blackpool and London later this year.
Virgin Trains has revealed it will be operating a daily week-day service starting on Monday December 15 providing it secures the backing of the Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR).
The operator made the announcement in the wake of Government confirmation that Virgin will continue to operate the West Coast Main Line for a further two years and nine months.
Services will leave Blackpool at 5.27am, arriving at Euston at 8.34am, with the return journey departing at 4.33pm and arriving back in Blackpool at 7.28pm, calling at Poulton and Kirkham.
The news is a major victory for The Gazette after our On Track To The Capital campaign to lobby for the return of the direct route was launched last year.
More than 5,000 people signed a petition backing the campaign to have the link restored.
A spokesman for Virgin Trains said: “Today’s announcement is great news for all those who supported The Gazette’s campaign to introduce direct services from Blackpool to London.
“We look forward to welcoming them on board from December and introducing them to the Virgin Trains experience.”
Journey times will be three hours, seven minutes for trip down to London and two hours 55 minutes for the return.
The service will be operated by Virgin Voyager diesel trains, but it is not known yet what type of rolling stock will be used post electrification of the line to Blackpool in May 2016.
Last year Network Rail objected to plans tabled in March 2013 by Virgin to introduce new direct services from Blackpool to London on the grounds there was not enough capacity on the West Coast Main Line.
But the new plan would see existing services extended, meaning there would be no extra trains operating on the line and no impact on existing capacity.
As a result, Network Rail confirmed last month it was working with Virgin again.
A Network Rail spokesperson said: “We recognise the aspiration for direct services between Blackpool and London and have been working closely with Virgin Trains and our other industry partners to produce a robust plan to enable these services to start running.
“A joint application to the ORR will be made shortly and subject to ORR approval these services are expected to start in December 2014.”
Virgin previously operated a direct link between Blackpool and the capital between 1998 and 2003 but axed the service due to overcrowding on the route.
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said: “Virgin is starting with a fairly modest service but it is a start.
“Providing the ORR approves it, we will want to see how they take it forward and what they can do to very rapidly scale it up once electrification comes.
“This shouldn’t just be a token to maintain the franchise.
“However it shows operators see the benefits of a direct route and I think that’s a tribute not just to The Gazette’s campaign but also to the improvements made to the town.”
Paul Nettleton, chairman of the Blackpool and Fylde Rail Users Association, said: “These departure times are ideal for business, but I would like more than one service a day. An off-peak service would help tourism.
“Provided Virgin advertise the service correctly and give it time to get bedded in, it is good news for the town.”
Chris Dale, chairman of Travelwatch North West, said: “I think it will be a welcome addition to services and not before time.”
An ORR spokesperson said: “ORR recognises the importance of direct rail services for passengers travelling between Blackpool, Shrewsbury and London on the West Coast Mainline, and expects to shortly receive an application for trains to begin operating in December 2014.”
Coun John Jones, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for highways and transport said he was delighted by the news.
He added: “I’m absolutely delighted by today’s news.
“I’ve been lobbying Virgin, as well as Network Rail and the ORR for a while now about the importance of a direct train line between London and Blackpool, as I feel it will have a huge impact on the town’s economy. I’m glad that they’ve listened and agreed to put on this direct route.
“This a huge boost to the town and will help to put the town on the map to millions of people who live in London, as well as making commuting between here and the capital a much more feasible proposition to many.”