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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Changing of the Guard

An almighty sigh of relief will be heard throughout the northwest this weekend as the current franchise holder of Northern Rail relinquishes control over this part of the UK rail network. Apart from their liberal application of large quantities of dark blue paint on fixed assets (and rolling stock), little else was changed over their operating franchise years. The same tired ramshackle rolling stock has been worked (almost to death) on services into and out of Blackpool whilst fares have continued their upward spiral (albeit in moderation). Peak hour travel into and out of Manchester has been a nightmare on Northern Rail trains due to the limitations on the number of carriages/coaches (take your pick) which the operator had rented

from rolling stock leasing companies who manage to always grab their piece of change (tithe) from Britain's privatised railway setup. Thank you John Major and co for this 'fast tracked' legislation at the tail end of your government.

A typical 'Pacer' unit - Northern Rail's offer for services into Blackpool and the Fylde coast. Should have been shunted into the buffers years ago but kept alive as a 'heritage train'.

We hear from the Opposition mention of railway renationalisation and frequent references to the profitability of the East Coast mainline franchise which reverted to public ownership after the untimely demise of the last corporate owner. However such tales of public ownership linked to profits in the railway sector remain a no-no in Westminster politics. Privatisation rules it seems - still.

Blackpool is set to see electrification of its railway link to the rest of the country (via Preston) - and hopefully a makeover for the 1930s concrete hall which presently acts as the resort's principal railway station. Whether this will extend to the station precinct with its grim fag end strewn exterior and lavatory like pedestrian subway leading to the Wilko bunker - remains very much to be seen. No doubt a certain lead Development company with vested interests in this part of the town's regeneration is keeping a very close eye on the reality emerging from imminent infrastructure changes around Talbot Gateway. The new franchise holder for Northern Rail taking over I believe on April 1st - has chance to make up for the lethargy of their predecessor - and possibly make a meaningful difference in rail travel experience in this area of Britain. We can but hope.

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