Virgin trains right on track for big day

Ready to roll: A Virgin Voyager train of the type which will be used for the direct service from London toBlackpool
Ready to roll: A Virgin Voyager train of the type which will be used for the direct service from London toBlackpool

Virgin Trains drivers have been carrying out practice runs ahead of the start of the new direct services between London and Blackpool.

Preparations are well in hand for the return of the capital link service which is due to start on Monday, December 15.

Virgin Trains has put nearly 100 of its staff through special training for the big day which will be a boost for Fylde coast commuters and which it is hoped will be beneficial for the local economy by allowing easier access for holidaymakers from the capital.

The reinstatement of the direct route after 11 years came following a 15 month On Track To The Capital campaign led by the Gazette.

The route had been cancelled in 2003 due to lack of demand.

A bid to reinstate it was initially turned down in 2013 due to concerns about lack of space in the timetable but in September Virgin received the green light from the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) to bring back the service.

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.

The West Coast operator is this week due to complete a programme which has seen 30 drivers and 68 train managers trained in specialist route knowledge of the Preston to Blackpool North stretch of track and stations.

More than 1,500 hours of dedicated training will have been completed before the first 5.25am service from Blackpool North departs on December 15. Staff have built up detailed knowledge of the route in order to ensure that they are able to operate it safely and cope with unforeseen circumstances.

Gary Iddon, Virgin Trains’ general manager for Anglo-Scottish services, said: “There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into running a train service safety and effectively, whether that’s in looking after our customers onboard or ensuring the drivers know the exact location of all the signals and signal boxes on route.

“Our staff are immensely proud of delivering such a great service and have worked hard over the last few months to ensure that they bring that famous Virgin welcome to passengers in Blackpool, Kirkham and Poulton.”

The driver training, which is required before drivers are passed for working any route on the UK rail network, involves building up “route knowledge” to ensure they are familiar with the line speed of each section of track, the location of signals and which set of signals is controlled by which signal box.

Train managers also have to be familiar with the route, as well as with station facilities and connections to other train services.

The first direct train from Blackpool will leave North station at 5.25am and arrive at Euston at 8.34am.

They will run initially from Monday to Friday, calling at Poulton, as well as Kirkham and Wesham.

The direct return journey will leave London at 4.33pm, getting into Blackpool North at 7.31pm.