Today we are back on track! That is the message from Blackpool’s business community as the first train of the direct link to London rolled out of Blackpool North station.
The Virgin Voyager which set off at the early hour of 5.25am marked the dawn of a new era as the resort, along with Poulton and Kirkham, were once again linked to the capital.
Leaders from the worlds of business, tourism and politics welcomed the daily services from Monday to Friday with departure at 5.25am arriving at 8.34am and a return at 4.33pm arriving at 7.31pm.
Hugh Evans, policy director of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said: “Less than five percent of the 10 million visitors who visit Blackpool each year come from London compared to almost 60 percent who originate from the North West.
“So the importance of targeting London and the rest of the South East cannot be under estimated.
“We need to make it easy as possible for visitors to travel to Blackpool and a direct line rail service is a great tool in the marketing box of tricks that we can use to attract visitors to the town”.
Martin Long, chairman of the Blackpool Business Leaders Group, said: “We are delighted that the service has been reinstated.
“We have long campaigned for this because of the potential benefits for the business community and for the Blackpool visitor economy.
“We must now ensure that the service is well used and that it becomes a permanent fixture on the timetables.”
Claire Smith from Stay Blackpool said: “It is great news. I am not sure if it is ideal with the timings for visitors but it will be great for business people. It will get you into London in time for early meeting and its not a bad time to come back.
“We need to capitalise on it and support the service. Hopefully if it goes well we might see it expanded with other times.
“We need to get Blackpool’s offer out there to people in London and you have to say that Blackpool is looking better than it has for years after it has been a bit of a building site.
“Our entertainment offer is second to none, we have the Resort Pass which will allow families to budget and spread the cost of their holiday here and which is great value, Merlin Big Ticket, Neil Diamond and Tommy the musical and our restaurant offer is fantastic now.
“This summer has been brilliant and hopes are high for next year.
“Let’s get the message out to people in London and support the new trains service.”
Blackpool North and Clevleys MP Paul Maynard said: “ “I have been very much looking forward to travelling on the inaugural journey on Monday.
“I hope the direct service brings an opportunity of economic development to the town and beyond.
“Some people said it would never happen, but thanks to my lobbying and that of the Gazette we made sure ministers listened and put Blackpool first.”
Paul Nettleton chairman of the Blackpool and Fylde Rail Users Association said: “We are very pleased about the start of the service but we will be pushing for more services and better timings.
“It is a positive start however and we are hoping that the business community will take it on board.
“It’s not ideal for tourists because it is a weekday service but if it is a success then perhaps we can see it run at weekend too. It is good to see Blackpool back on what I would term a proper railway network.”
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said: “It is great that we are back on track and I hope its a service that people will be able to use well.
“If so then we may be able to extend it and it could become more user friendly.”
Coun Christian Cox of Squires Gate ward who has campaigned for a reinstatement of the link for many years said: “Blackpool is a big town with a large population and 10 million visitors a year and so it was not right that it did not have a direct link to the south.
“I am pleased it is back, its fantastic and hope that it will just be the start with more services and more long distance routes.”
Special training for Virgin train crews
Virgin Trains has put almost 100 of its staff through special training for the launch of the direct Blackpool-London service.
The West Coast operator has completed 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 0525 service from Blackpool North departs on 15 December.
Gary Iddon from Virgin Trains said: “ The first train to depart Blackpool North for London at 0525 will take us into a new era, re-establishing a direct rail link to the capital and fulfilling a long-held ambition of Blackpool’s residents.
“We’re immensely excited that we’re now going to bring that Virgin Trains magic to Blackpool.
“The service will allow people in Blackpool, Poulton and Kirkham and Wesham to arrive in London in plenty of time for the start of the working day and travel home the same day.
“We are plugging Blackpool directly into one of the world’s strongest economic powerhouses.
“We know that the service commencing Monday is not the summit of Blackpool’s ambitions but the base camp from which we can build a strong future.