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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Electrics Heading In Our Direction

Northern Rail laid on a customer popup desk in Blackpool North on Tuesday to answer questions from rail (and other) users about the planned electrification of the Preston to Blackpool line. The Author duly turned up to offer his views and elicit answers on the now active upgrade work on the line into Blackpool North from Preston Station.

Complaints had been received from people living close to the railway line in Preston, Kirkham and recently in Poulton over the noise from electrification work necessarily being carried out during nighttime hours - and also the depredations of lineside undergrowth and trees bordering the railway which require cutting down. So far no complaints in Blackpool (as yet) possibly because of the lack of trees bordering the railway (with exception of the immediate area at Layton Station).

Work has commenced on realignment of two of the tracks leading into Blackpool North terminal layout with a reduction in the total number of tracks from the existing layout. Platforms will also need realignment to handle the new electric trains as well as the potential higher frequency 'Pendelino' sets proposed by Virgin Rail for their Blackpool - London service. Network Rail or the Rail Regulator, I never know who does what in this convoluted national railway setup, have received two bids from seperate rail operating companies to provide a three to five times a day Blackpool - London Euston direct service starting on completion of the electrification upgrade work here. One of these is from Virgin Trains using Pendelino sets, whilst the other is from a newcomer intending to utilise rolling stock acquired from the eastern railway operating franchise. Opening of a (partly) remodelled Preston Station coincidentally this week displayed a new passenger entry point from the car parking area funded by Virgin Trains. The Author visited a similar designated resource of Virgin Trains within Liverpool LIme Street (which seems to be undergoing perpetual improvement internally). So perhaps if Virgin secure the Blackpool to Euston service franchise it could possibly? lead to a similar investment at Blackpool North for users of the new long distance fast services heading south to the capital (and a few points in between). Watch the space.

Northern Rail's unit themselves are cascaded down rolling stock, given makeovers of course, but originating from London Overground services. So instead of making for Watford or Nuneaton - they find themselves now clad in new colours heading into Preston - and soon to Blackpool North. The station itself is owned by Network Rail but leased to Northern - the current franchise operator. Whilst brave proposals had been put forward by Blackpool Council and Muse - the Talbot Gateway Developer which showed a new station with bus interchange and marvellously impressive environs leading down to Talbot Square, complete with new tramway of course. Gone entirely were traces of the grim rundown and wholly unacceptable streetscape currently making up this important access to the Promenade by foot or vehicle. Alas this is not to be. There will certainly be improvements made to the public's experience and realm in and around the station property - with widened subway directly into the new hotel and office development which replaces the Lubyanka structure functioning as a retail store and carpark. Work on this will begin late 2018 with Blackpool North closing entirely over the coming winter months for completion of the railway infrastructure work that includes electrification wiring, new electronic signally replacing the traditional gantries (couldn't one example be left standing as a heritage feature?). The signal box itself is due to go - along with all the others along the railway from Preston as electronic centralised controls takeover this essential safety element.

Currently there is a Union dispute with Northern Rail over driver only operated trains which is reflected similarly on services elsewhere in England including Merseyrail and especially on one or more of operators running into London. Whether this is satisfactorily resolved before 2019 remains to be seen.

Whilst Blackpool North is not now likely to metamorphisise into the grandiose transport interchange once envisaged in the original Talbot Gateway scheme, it will experience long overdue improvement visually and in provision of services to passengers. Any improvement is indeed welcome given the abysmal state of this important visitor entry point. The tram extension likewise may give rise to new private sector investment along Talbot Road which has become a run down wholly depressing part of the town centre. Wholesale flattening of some of the properties would aid the streetscape replaced by trees and quality public realm leading into the former civic centre of Blackpool in front of the Town Hall, itself badly in need of some external tlc.

One could go on and on in this vein - but on the railway side at least there is light at the end of the tunnel; however modest the glare.

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