The first direct train service from Blackpool to London for 11 years was launched in true resort style – with dancing girls, a fanfare, balloon arch and a VIP send-off.
Civic dignitaries, business leaders and early bird commuters hailed the start of the new service from the nation’s capital to its fun capital.
The first direct train to leave Blackpool North station pulled out at 5.25am on a dark and damp December morning.
But it marked a new dawn for the resort’s railway according to passengers who said it could only be a boost for the area’s residents and economy.
Graham Leech, Virgin Trains’ commercial executive director, welcomed the passengers on board with help from a fanfare from Blackpool’s town crier Barry McQueen. He said he was delighted to be able to return the service to the resort thanks to support from the community and the Gazette’s 15-month campaign.
It means a train will leave the resort at 5.25am arriving at London Euston at 8.34am, with the direct return at 4.33pm arriving at Blackpool North at 7.31pm every day from Monday to Friday stopping at Kirkham and Poulton.
Mr Leech said: “I am very excited about the new service, its a great day for Virgin Trains and a great day for Blackpool. I hope the business community and general public get behind it and make it the success it deserves to be.
“I know how much this means to people in the area and I have to thank the community and The Gazette for their support to get it reinstated. We wanted to do this years ago but circumstances did not allow, but we are glad to be able to launch the service today.”
Coun John Jones, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for transport, said: “For business commuters this is a great time to start, giving them plenty of time to get to early meetings in London.
“It might be a bit early for other people but it is fantastic first step and we are delighted with Virgin for bringing the service back.
“We are willing to work with Virgin if they wish to build on this service and expand. From what I have heard in talks today, there could be spare capacity in the timetable for more services in the future if this one is a success.”
Norman Tenray president of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said: “This sort of direct service is crucial, connectivity is key for the growth of business.
“It can only be good for Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde. With the changes we have seen at the airport recently this direct connection will be a much needed boost for moral in the area.”
Blackpool North MP Paul Maynard was making the most of the new service to get to his office in Westminster.
He said: “The economic benefits it can bring are plain and it is key that people use it so we don’t lose it. The council can play a big role in promoting Blackpool together with Virgin to exploit the service.
“For business people looking to have a day of meetings in London this is the perfect arrival time in London at 8.30am allowing time for transfers or cross city travel.”
Fylde MP Mark Menziers joined the train at Kirkham and Wesham.He said: “The train is clearly full this morning which is a great result.
“We have to encourage people across the Fylde to make the most of it.”
Marketing is the way to exploit rail link
Leading figures in Blackpool have said the direct link to London is just the first step and the resort must work with Virgin Trains to make the most of its opportunities.
Robert Owen, director of marketing at the Pleasure Beach said: “This puts Blackpool back on the Virgin Trains map.
“That there is a direct link between Blackpool and London is extremely important and even though it is early days we can build on this.
“We at the Pleasure Beach hope to work with Virgin to market the direct link fully.”
Mandy Tythe-McCallum from Visit Blackpool said: “This is a real positive step and following its announcement we have already had calls from people possibly looking to bring their conferences to Blackpool in 2018.
“We have to prove the service will work and then we can maybe expand on it.
“We must all work together to market Blackpool as a destination and make the most of the opportunity.”
Rob Green from the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Economic Development Company said: “This is a great opportunity to show what the Fylde coast has to offer to businesses in London and the South.
“We must make this a success first and then we can press for more services throughout the day and perhaps the weekend and make the most of them through joint marketing.”