The sharp drop is passenger numbers - 1.1 million fewer passengers, making up 5.6 per cent of the total - comes after major disruptions on the county’s network, including the 22 week closure of the Preston to Blackpool line.
Blackpool North station, which was served only by rail replacement buses between November 2017 and April 2018, was one of the worst hit by the disruption.
In the 12 months up to the end of March, passenger numbers were down 281,198 to 1.6m – a fall of more than 15 per cent.
The work, which was timed to avoid the tourist season but overran past the Easter bank holiday weekend, was part of Network Rail’s major upgrade.
But despite the newly electrified lines opening in April, passengers were provided a drastically reduced timetable before the introduction of a new timetable in May led to chaos as hundreds of services across the North West were severely delayed or cancelled.
Ongoing work to electrify part of the track between Manchester and Preston means new electric trains earmarked for routes in the North West will not be rolled out until the new year.
Preston station, which has routes going to Blackpool, Manchester, Edinburgh and London, was less badly hit by the passenger number fall, with just a 0.5 per cent drop.
But other stations across the county showed a serious fall in passenger numbers including Kirkham, which saw a 14 per cent fall, Carnforth down by 11 per cent, Chorley 4.7 per cent and Leyland at five per cent.
After the electrification was finished, rail passengers had to endure further disruption, with the chaos surrounding Northern’s new timetable in May and ongoing industrial action which has seen train cancellations every Saturday for more than three months.
Last week, the Post reported on the plight of Croston, which had no trains at all for a week in November when all trains on the Preston to Ormskirk line were cancelled due to leaves on the line.
Parish councillor Kath Almond said: “The other week, the first time since the line came to Croston in 1849, we had no trains - not a single train.
“Imagine how workers feel. Students, people who have missed exams, or people on jury service. People just starting jobs have lost them. Hospital appointments missed.
“I have endless examples of hardship.”
Andrew Morgan, senior sponsor for Network Rail said: “ORR figures showing a fall in passenger numbers at Blackpool stations coincides with the 22-week, multi-million-pound electrification of the line between Blackpool and Preston earlier this year. The vital upgrade, part of the Great North Rail Project, meant electric trains were able to serve Blackpool for the first time.
“We recognise that the project caused frustration for passengers and local businesses but we are confident that the greener, quieter and more spacious electric trains which now serve Blackpool will mean more passengers than ever can travel in the area by train, bringing a significant boost to the local economy in future.”
And rail bosses are now saying passengers may have to endure months more misery.
Northern Rail has conceded there are still going to be delays, short trains and potential overcrowding right up until the next timetable change in May next year.
This follows on from the summer’s emergency schedule with reduced services brought in after the May timetable change this year led to widespread complaints over sub-par services.
At the same time, fares are due to rise by 3.2 per cent in January.
Northern has blamed Network Rail’s over-running work to electrify the lines in the region, but weekends continue to see massively reduced services, compounded by the ongoing RMT dispute with the operator over guards on trains.
A statement on Northern’s website states: “This December, there will only be small changes to our timetable – 95 per cent will not change. This is in line with the announcement made by the rail industry back in July 2018 that there will be fewer timetable changes in December to ensure our customers get a more stable and reliable service.”