Train bosses buoyed by rail link numbers

Rail Boss: Virgin's Garry Iddon says passenger numbers are up
Rail Boss: Virgin's Garry Iddon says passenger numbers are up

Early signs are that Virgin’s direct rail service from Blackpool to London has got off to a good start, according to train bosses.

They say that ,although official figures have not yet been compiled and that the return of the much awaited service after 11 years came just before the Christmas period when commuters change their routines, the service has been popular so far.

The first direct train to leave Blackpool North station pulled out at 5.25am on a dark and damp morning on December 15.

It operates five days a week to and from the capital

The comments come as Virgin announced that rail travel on the West Coast Main Line was seeing a surge in popularity following investment in additional capacity by Virgin Trains.

The London to Scotland operator saw an 11 per cent increase in passenger numbers on its Anglo-Scottish services last year after increasing the number of seats available by 3,000 every weekday.

The route is the main rail artery connecting Cumbria and Lancashire to the cities of London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Virgin Trains said it had focused on a range of commercial initiatives to attract new customers to rail over the last year, including sponsoring Carlisle United, Preston North End and the Kendal Calling music festival.

Gary Iddon, Virgin Trains’ General Manager for Anglo-Scottish services, said: “These figures are a fantastic endorsement of the work we’ve done on the route.

“Our team have worked really hard to put in place a service that customers value and want to return to.

“We’ve done a lot of work with partner organisations to promote rail travel and the additional capacity means that we have far more low-priced fares to offer passengers.”

The timetable change in December 2013 saw many of the five-car Super Voyager trains working the Anglo-Scottish route replaced by nine or 11-car Pendolinos, adding 3,000 seats per weekday.

The figures include those travelling to Blackpool via Preston with Trans Pennine Express or Northern rather than on the direct route but he said early signs were “encouraging”.

Virgin Trains has been operating passenger services on the West Coast Main Line since 1997.

It secured a new franchise with the Department for Transport in June last year which will see it continue as franchisee until April 2017, with an option to extend for a year.