Chaotic first day of Blackpool-Preston rail replacement
Rail electrification work sparked chaos for passengers on the first commuter day of a four-month closure between Preston and Blackpool yesterday.
Travellers missed connections and many others were late for work as replacement buses slowed down journey times on a 17-mile route normally used by more than 100 trains a day.
One “rush hour” trip from Blackpool North to Preston, which normally takes 27 minutes, lasted 82 minutes, leaving passengers angry and frustrated.
And many agreed, train operators Northern had failed to factor heavy traffic on the roads into their shuttle bus schedules.
“It’s a bit annoying,” said Katie Ball, 19, who was late for her shift at Thomas Cook in Preston. Fortunately, she said, she had an understanding boss.
The Post had a reporter on the 8am bus service from Blackpool North, calling at Layton, Poulton and Kirkham. It arrived in Preston at 9.22am, leaving many travellers almost half an hour late for work.
Others had been desperately trying to make connections on the West Coast mainline - and many of those missed their trains.
Keele University student Hannah Rose, 18, thought she had left plenty of time to get her service to Stoke, but still arrived too late and had to wait another hour for the next one. “Hopefully I won’t miss any lectures,” she said.
Fellow student Meghan Lewis faced a lengthy wait at Preston after missing her 9.17am connecting train.
The 20-year-old, who studies maths at Coventry University, said the replacement bus had already added “30 to 45 minutes” on to her two-and-a-half hour trip, and added: “I will have to get the next one, probably in an hour’s time. I haven’t got a lecture until four, so it should be alright.
“I can imagine it affecting a lot of people worse than me, like people trying to get to work, so I can’t complain.”
But retired university lecturer Alan Hurst, 72, refused to blame Northern, saying: “I think the journey has been terrific, and the information that has been provided is fantastic.
“The problem is the traffic at this time. You just can’t legislate for traffic, and, on Monday, it’s heavier than usual. I travel to London regularly on the 9.58am from Preston and the advertised bus from Poulton is 9am.
“Had I not caught this service, I would have missed my connection.”
The delays come just days before the M55 motorway is due to shut overnight for up to two weeks for resurfacing. While the work, on the eastbound carriageway between junctions 4 and 1, is only scheduled to be carried out between 8pm and 6am, any over-run in a morning could also affect travel between Blackpool and Preston.
On the railway worries had been voiced about the 8am Blackpool North-Preston service’s tight timetable before the railway line shut for electrification work on Saturday.
And yesterday morning, those aboard the double decker Palladium bus vented their frustration as it arrived at Preston 17 minutes over the expected 65-minute journey time.
Last month, 84 per cent of 640 people surveyed said they believed the new timetables – which left just 20 minutes to get from Poulton to Kirkham and 25 to get from Kirkham to Preston – were unrealistic.
Commuters, taxi firms, and MPs called for a rethink, though Northern said it had carried out test runs on the route and said its schedule was ‘realistic and accurate.’
One commuter added: “Northern Rail must be replacing their trains with helicopters because that is the only way you will get from Poulton to Kirkham in 20 minutes in rush hour.
“I understand the line needs upgrading, but the replacement bus timetable is not realistic during busy periods. Anyone with a modicum of common sense would have at least undertaken some research and tested the routes to see how long it takes to drive from station to station, especially during these key times.”
A spokesman for Northern said: “We have planned carefully for the engineering work on the Blackpool to Preston line and are operating an express service every 15 minutes from both Blackpool and Poulton direct to Preston. We will also have the stopping service, calling at all stations, which will run every 15 minutes.
“We know that, despite this careful planning, some rail replacement services may encounter delays as a result of heavy traffic or other potential issues.
“With this is mind we will have buses on standby along the route to support our timetabled services.
“Throughout the engineering work we will constantly monitor and review our rail replacement plans to ensure they are providing the best possible service, and we are grateful for the initial feedback from our customers.”