The ambition to upgrade Preston Railway station and get it ready for high speed trains took a step forward this week.
The Transport for Lancashire committee has agreed to ask the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to fund a new study to signpost the wider economic benefits of creating a station fit for the 21st century.
The committee, which met on Wednesday, was told that station improvements were essential for the economic development of the city and wider area – particularly as Preston could also become a key interchange station welcoming millions of visitors when high speed rail arrives.
It was emphasised that this was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” and station owners Network Rail would also have a major role in any discussions.
Acknowledging the LEP will have no direct control over what happens to the station county council transport planning adviser Dave Colbert stressed: “It is of significance not just to the economy of Preston and central Lancashire, but going forward to wider Lancashire and potentially into Cumbria as well as soon as HS2 (high speed train) starts to come.”
He said one of the challenges was that HS2 trains needed level platforms with no step up to the train by passengers. Eventually 400 metre trains, roughly quarter of a mile long, would be going through Preston station.
He summed up the problems ahead: “The big challenge is trying to adapt a basically Victorian infrastructure to try to accommodate these big new trains.
“The difference between the quality of the trains and the environment of the station will become even starker.”
In contrast other trains would still need traditional platforms which created logistical problems over use of less accessible platforms at Preston.
Noting that in 2026, in the first phase of HS2 ,Preston might be the only stop on the London to Scotland route he predicted there would be increasing demands on the station as high speed extended to Crewe and further north, adding: “We need to understand what the future demand is likely to be and options to mitigate that.”
LEP Board member Graham Cowley suggested it should be a joint study with Network Rail and said: “This seems to be offering a once in a lifetime opportunity for Preston overall.”
He also stressed the importance of talking to other partners around Preston about “a strategic city centre strategy.”
Blackpool councillor Fred Jackson flew the flag for all the county’s seaside resorts saying:” I welcome this report. I hope everyone is invited and gets a chance to take part. It needs to be a wider Lancashire based review.”
Acting committee chairman County Coun Michael Green said: “ It (the station) might be located in Preston, but the benefits have got to spill out for all of the county - that’s important.”
• The briefing considered by Transport for Lancashire also raised the prospect of creating a business district close to the station “to provide Preston with the high quality, premium business investment location currently missing from the city centre.” It suggested this would attract “professional, financial and business services together with ICT, digital and creative industries.”