Blackpool’s long-awaited rail upgrades are back on track as bosses pledged to have electric trains running by May 2018.
Campaigners have hailed the news that the electrification of the line between Blackpool and Preston will be finished in just over two years.
The news paves the way for a ‘very good year’ that will see newer, faster trains arriving in the resort as council chiefs hope to start work on an £18m project to extend the tramway from North Pier to Blackpool North station.
It is also the year Alliance Rail will start running six new direct trains a day between Blackpool and London.
On the electrification announcement, rail campaigner Stephen Brookes said: “Now we have got a firm commitment we can plan accordingly – we are moving in the right direction.
“The good thing about that is that’s when we are expecting the new tram run up to North station. In fact, it will make it a very good year.”
Network Rail confirmed the dates in a document outlining the timetable for its North West electrification programme.
The Gazette first reported the scheme was ‘likely’ to be completed in time for the 2018 summer season back in November.
The project was originally due to be completed this year, before being pushed back to 2017 but campaigners have welcomed the firm commitment from rail bosses.
Paul Nettleton, of the Blackpool and Fylde Rail Users’ Association, said they can look forward ‘as long as we’ve got a date’.
He added: “Come 2018, you will see a completely different set-up all together.
“There will be faster services and there will be more of them, I have no doubt. The world of the rail commuter will be very different.”
The new Northern franchise holder, Arriva, has already vowed to ditch the outdated Pacer trains that serve the Fylde coast by 2019.
That is the year Blackpool Council said it hopes to see the tramway extension up and running, ‘provided that all approvals are in place’.
Network Rail said its work will include improving the track layout at Blackpool North and signal upgrades.
A spokesman said: “By May 2018 the line between Blackpool and Preston will be electrified and we are working to finalise the specific date which will be announced as soon as possible.
“The work will be carefully planned to cause the least disruption to passengers and to keep the resort accessible by train as much as possible.”
Arriva announced last week it has signed the contract to deliver the new rolling stock that will serve the North West. The first of the new trains, which will have free wifi for passengers, will be ready by October 2018.