Preston’s railway station has been slammed as dated, deteriorating, inadequate and in need of urgent investment.
A critical new report, to be considered next week, argues the Grade II listed station must be transformed to meet 21st century needs and get it ready for high-speed rail.
The report for the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) Transport for Lancashire committee lists a catalogue of access and safety issues for passengers and says the station building “lacks presence” and gives a poor first impression of the city.
Rail bosses have defended the station as “historic” and say £2m has recently been spent on improving the facilities.
But the Partnership report warns the station’s platforms will not be able to accommodate the new 400m long HS2 high speed trains due in 2033 and says the station offers a poor passenger experience:
Yes, it does need better parking, yes, it needs improved pedestrian circulation. There are lifts and tunnels people don’t use.
Shortcomings the report lists include:
• Dated and unsuitable facilities
• Failure to contribute to the wider growth and development of the city centre
• A poor retail and commercial offer
• Issues with pedestrian safety and poor accessibility
• Poor use of platforms
• Poor parking locations
• Piecemeal investment over decades
• A narrow pedestrian footbridge which makes changing platforms difficult
• A small main entrances
The station needs to become a “high quality contemporary transport hub” to meet passenger and operators’ needs, boost the county’s economy and contribute to the Northern Powerhouse, says the report. It notes key changes needed to make it HS2 ready include track and signal renewal.
The Transport committee meets at County Hall on Wednesday (Jan 10) and will be asked to recommend the LEP to fund and commission a study to detail how a transformed station will boost economic growth and productivity. The report says a new business district could be created close to the station.
The report comes after a series of improvement works at the station, including the creation of a new bike hub and new food retailers on the main platform. However, a revamped entrance at the Butler Street side of the station was shortlisted for a worst building award, the Carbuncle Cup, last year.
Aidan Turner-Bishop, secretary of the Lancashire Campaign For Better Transport, said any changes must preserve the station’s historic features.
He said: “Yes, it does need better parking, yes, it needs improved pedestrian circulation. There are lifts and tunnels people don’t use.”
He suggested improvements, such as the introduction of escalators, better use of station land and a bistro were needed: “Provided they keep the essential features of this handsome Grade II listed building. It’s a fine example of a classic LNWR (London North Western Railway) interchange station.”
The station is owned by Network Rail and managed by leaseholders Virgin Trains, whose lease has been extended for a year from March 2018.
Mr Turner-Bishop suggested Network Rail take over running the station, as it has at other major centres, to give long term continuity and encourage investment.
He said: “The problem is the station is owned by Network Rail. It’s managed by Virgin but a substantial part of its operators are Northern. Virgin has a temporary lease – there’s no secure future for it. The whole business of franchise needs to be sorted out. There’s uncertainty about investment.”
The report also noted a “deteriorating environment and increasing maintenance costs of structures including platforms, overbridges and subways”.
The station is the busiest in the region outside Manchester and Liverpool. It hosts 5m passenger trips each year. Another 1.9m passengers change trains at Preston.
In the past decade passenger numbers have increased by 44 per cent, attracted not just by the West Coast Main Line but by direct trains to Manchester city centre and airport and journeys to Leeds, Blackpool and East Lancashire.
The Transport for Lancashire Committee will also be urged to request forecasts of future passenger demand, especially when HS2 services arrive in the North West.
Train companies’ response
A spokesman for Virgin Trains on the West Coast route said: “As the LEP report acknowledges, Virgin Trains has played an important role in investing to deliver an improved experience for the record numbers using Preston station.
“Over 1.2m people have travelled on Virgin services between London and Preston during the last two years.
“As part of a £2m investment by Virgin Trains, those using the station can take advantage of a range of new improvements – including free high-speed Wi-Fi on the concourse and platforms, new retail outlets including Starbucks and West Cornwall Pasty Co, and a new Bike Hub with a specialist cycling shop, managed by Leisure Lakes Bikes - a local family-run business. Working in partnership with Network Rail and the local councils, we’re always looking at ways to improve the stations we manage to improve customer satisfaction and provide the local community with the facilities they need.”
A spokesman for Network Rail added: “Preston station is an historic and grand entrance to the city and Network Rail is committed to working with stakeholders to develop it to meet future demand. Regenerated stations help to boost city centres and as the Great North Rail Project begins to deliver improved services for passengers, we are keen to help the station match this.
“We will continue to improve the station when and where possible and develop a plan in time for any potential future HS2-related services.”
Rail travel is speeding up across the region, but the report stresses: “For passengers, the contrast between the station and on-board experience will quickly become even starker.”
• The introduction of high speed HS2 routes as far as Crewe and Golborne, near Wigan, means the Preston to London journey will be reduced to one hour 28 minutes by 2027.
• Preston will become a significant interchange point for passengers seeking to access HS2 services. In 2026 the city will be the only intermediate stop on the London to Glasgow/Edinburgh services, when the first phase of HS2 from London to the West Midlands is completed.
• In December 2008 ‘Pendolino’ tilting trains cut journey times from Preston to London to just over two hours.
• The £1bn Great North Rail Project (GNRP) has enabled new electric trains to be introduced on Trans-Pennine Express services between Scotland, Preston and Manchester.
• Refurbished electric trains now operate hourly between Preston and Liverpool.
• Upgrade and electrification of the Preston to Blackpool North line and the route from Manchester to Preston via Chorley is due for completion this year.
• The GNRP will ensure the Trans-Pennine Express service from Preston to central Manchester will be cut to 30 minutes, with a line speed of 100mph in places.
• Northern is set to operate new electric trains on services between Blackpool North and Manchester Airport.