Gazette handed big ‘thank you’ for our decisive rail campaign

Oyez, oyez: Blackpool town crier Barry McQueen hails service
Oyez, oyez: Blackpool town crier Barry McQueen hails service

Transport chiefs today thanked Gazette readers after a successful campaign saw Blackpool’s direct rail link with London reinstated.

Transport chiefs today thanked Gazette readers after a successful campaign saw Blackpool’s direct rail link with London reinstated.

Virgin Trains has received the green light from the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) to run services from Blackpool North to London Euston – 15 months after we launched our On Track To The Capital campaign.

It marks the end of an 11 year fight since the last scheduled train to the capital pulled out of the resort.

Bosses from the worlds of business, tourism and politics have shared their delight at the decision daily services – Monday to Friday – will start in December.

Although there will be just one departure (5.25am) and one arrival (7.31pm) per day it is hoped the service will be expanded if it proves popular.

Virgin Trains lead executive Phil Whittingham said: “We’ve stated all along we were determined to introduce a new service between Blackpool and London. So we couldn’t be more pleased.

“We’ve worked hard with our industry partners to make the case for this first service and we are looking forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure it is a success and becomes a permanent fixture of the railway timetable.

“We want to say a very big thank you to the Blackpool Gazette and their readers.

“They’ve been behind us all of the way and we are fully committed to rewarding their support and, of course, welcoming many them on board from December.”

Our campaign saw more than 5,000 Fylde coast residents sign a petition calling for the London service to be re-instated after Network Rail rejected Virgin’s original bid due to a lack of capacity on the crowded rail network.

Fylde coast MPs Gordon Marsden, Paul Maynard and Mark Menzies joined The Gazette in presenting the petition at the ORR’s London headquarters in July last year.

Mr Marsden, who represents Blackpool South in Parliament, said: “I’m very pleased it’s finally been approved.

“I hope it will be the start of a significant and expanding commitment, not simply to improving our train connectivity with London, but increasing east-west links from Blackpool to other parts of the country as well.

“It’s great The Gazette’s campaign has brought this about.”

Mr Maynard, Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP, added: “Obviously it’s good news for all those who refused to believe it might not happen.

“It just goes to show what good campaigning from the local paper can do.

“The Gazette can share credit for pushing the Government on to the right path.

“We now need to make sure it’s used. The timings aren’t the greatest but we do need to make a successful service of it.”

An original appeal was rejected by the ORR, but a follow up bid by Virgin – as part of a new £430m deal in June to run the West Coast Main Line – has now been deemed acceptable by the regulator.

A spokesman for Network Rail said: “Direct trains between London and Blackpool will be a valuable addition to the services which already connect the town to the rest of rail network. They will provide greater business and leisure opportunities and will support and develop local economic growth as a result of improved access to the capital.”

‘London link will bring so many people here’

Blackpool town crier Barry McQueen said a massive ‘Oyez, Oyez’ after news broke a London rail service is heading back to Blackpool.

Barry, last year, took to the streets of the resort to help The Gazette collect 5,000 signatures backing the service’s return.

Barry said: “It’s fabulous and it’ll bring so many people here.

“We found when we went out in Blackpool people were saying it’s alright on the train, but you’ve got to get off at Preston.

“Now it’ll come straight in, it’ll be absolutely fantastic. I’m chuffed to bits.”

Stay Blackpool president Claire Smith said: “It’s marvellous.

“The timings are good for businesspeople because if you’ve got a morning meeting in London you’ll be there early.

“It’s better for corporate business I suppose rather than visitors, but in saying that people have the choice to use it now, which they didn’t before.

“It shows the power in numbers the campaign had, and what it needed was someone to coordinate it, and that’s what The Gazette did.

“It got everybody motivated and the people interested.”

Paul Nettleton, chairman of the Blackpool and Fylde Rail Users Association, added: “It’s a step in the right direction and it’s very good for getting the resort back on the map.

“From a business point of view it can only be positive and it’s got to be the start of something a bit better.

“They should look at expanding it from Monday to Friday, to weekends as well.”

Coun John Jones, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “This is fantastic news.

“Re-opening the London to Blackpool link can only serve to boost business in Blackpool and improve our connections with the rest of the country.”

Squires Gate Coun Christian Cox put forward a notice of motion last year after the rail link bid was blocked in June.

He received unanimous support from councillors for his proposal to ask Neil Jack, Blackpool Council’s chief executive, to write to Richard Parry-Jones, the chairman of Network Rail, requesting he review the position and commit to re-introduce the vital London link.

Coun Cox said: “I got full support from fellow councillors. I also sent a few letters to the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, who is a long time supporter of the project, as well as the Office for Rail Regulation, asking for its support.

“It is great news. I must thank The Gazette for its campaign – it was a great effort.”

Hugh Evans, policy director of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, echoed the calls for this to be the start of an expanded Blackpool service.

He said : “At the moment anybody who wants to travel to and from London has to get off at Preston.

“It’s that journey from Preston to Blackpool which is the problem and it’s not a great advertisement for the town. We would hope the ORR will let Virgin increase the number of trains.

“It’s great news for people in Blackpool who want to go to London for the day but we’d hope some time in the near future another train would be put on.”

Mr Evans also added his weight to the role played by local people.

He said: “People underestimate the campaigning power of local newspapers, but we’d be a lot further away from this if it wasn’t for The Gazette.”

Blackpool councillor and transport enthusiast Coun Paul Galley said: “It’s an absolutely great example of never giving up.

“The Gazette deserves a lot of credit because it has galvanised a lot of support and united everybody behind a great campaign.

“It’s a great result for Blackpool and the Fylde.

“The key now is to make the service successful and request more investment for Blackpool from the capital.”

Service to start in December

The new service, which will run between Monday and Friday, will commence on December 15. The train will also call at Poulton, as well as Kirkham and Wesham, leaving the resort at 5.25am and reaching Euston at 8.34am. The return journey will leave London at 4.33pm, getting into Blackpool North at 7.31pm.