There is some good news for rail users at Blackpool after more than five months of having to rely on replacement buses.
The railway between Preston and Blackpool North is set to reopen on Monday (April 16) as the transformation of train travel across the north of England continues.
As part of the multi-billion pound Great North Rail Project, the line will reopen following 22 weeks of work to upgrade the tracks, station platforms and signalling system.
When the train services between Preston and Blackpool North resume on Monday, it will initially be with one train per hour allowing time for driver training on the route.
Northern, the company which runs the trains, will operate one train per hour between Blackpool North and Manchester Airport – via Preston – and will continue to supplement this with two stopping and two express bus services every hour between Blackpool North and Preston.
In addition to this, the hourly service between Blackpool South and Preston will continue to operate but with many services extended to operate to and from Colne.
And Monday will also see Virgin Trains on the west coast reinstate its direct service to Blackpool North, which departs London Euston at 4.33pm.
Although welcome news, there is some disappointment that the service will only offer one train per hour.
Blackpool resident Stephen Brookes, who is the rail sector champion for disabled people, said: “Of course I do welcome the return of the trains, but I was expecting four trains and hour as promised, not one.
“What we are getting is not the full resumption of rail services but a reduced service which appears to be just a driver training excercise.
“What it means is that the fewer trains which will be operating will be crammed with people, and we will still have the replacement buses, which take longer so people will still be having to plan their timetables around a longer journey.”
However, Mr Brookes added that the replacement bus service had been a success.
He said: “I have no issue with the buses, they are disabled-friendly and the service has been excellent.
“I do have an issue with the fact we are not getting what we were promised.”
Rail users had to wait longer than expected for the service to resume, as the closure of the line was extended in March.
This was due to severe weather and the breakdown of critical machinery used to install new overhead line equipment.
Martin Frobisher, route managing director for Network Rail’s London North Western route, said: “During the closure we’ve worked round-the-clock to upgrade and electrify the line to provide passengers with better services on this important route later this year.
“This work will allow greener, quieter and more reliable train services to run between Preston and Blackpool North when the new timetable is introduced on 20 May.”
Sharon Keith, Northern regional director, said: “We’re delighted to be able to once again start running trains between Blackpool North and Preston.
“The electrification work, carried out as part of the Great North Rail Project, will enable us to run greener and more reliable electric trains from Blackpool as part of our May timetable change, giving our customers more comfortable journeys and more journey options.
“On Monday, April 16, we will introduce an hourly service on the route while we carry out essential driver training in preparation for the May timetable changes.”
She added: “I am asking our customers to plan their journeys carefully when travelling to and from Blackpool. Timetables from Blackpool North will be updated as more services are introduced, whilst a full rail service will continue to operate from Blackpool South.”
Michael Stewart, general manager at Virgin Trains on the west coast, said: “At Virgin Trains we’re pleased to be returning to Blackpool with our northbound service from London Euston to Blackpool North.
“We would like to thank customers for their patience and understanding, whilst Network Rail has worked to electrify the line between Blackpool North and Preston as part of the Great Rail North Project.”
As part of Blackpool’s rail upgrade Network Rail has rebuilt 11 bridges, remodelled 11 station platforms, replaced 11,000 metres of track, installed 200,000 metres of overhead power line, upgraded railway drainage systems and installed 84 new modern signals.
The brand new signalling system, controlled from Network Rail’s operating centre in Manchester, will help to reduce delays and improve railway performance.
When the railway reopens, upgrade work will continue into spring during overnight shifts when trains aren’t running.
Passengers should keep checking www.nationalrail.co.uk for the latest travel information.