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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Rail Replacement Progress PS

As the weeks go by - electrification work along the railway from Kirkham to Blackpool North takes on an air of urgency for completion by the scheduled deadlines and before the first of the seasonal crowds descend on Blackpool and the Fylde coast (by rail).

A well organised set up at Blackpool North by the Rail Replacement partnership is now embedded at the station entrance with queues of buses ready to collect rail passengers bound for Preston Station. A direct bus replacement service between North Station and Preston avoids delays traversing the A585 out of Poulton. Rail service variants, one of which follows the station stops between Blackpool North and Kirkham then on to Preston are evident, with marshals guiding travellers on to the appropriate service.

Blackpool North's platforms have been realigned and now await installation of traction masts within the station area. These are stored offsite at the Council car park along Talbot Road and Devonshire Road. The car park has been turned into a reserved space for the rail upgrade contractors and materials. It is understood that a question over retention of the single canopied platform at Blackpool North which had been threatened with demolition as part of the upgrade contract was resolved last week after joined up meetings with Network Rail, Blackpool Council and other partners. Apparently the platform canopy was to have been demolished without replacement in original plans. Wiser minds prevailed and at least one platform will have benefit of overhead cover for which passengers will no doubt be grateful in years ahead. Minds at work elsewhere would appear to view north of england travellers to be much hardier than their counterparts on station platforms elsewhere in the country.

Sadly no plans have so far emerged for modernising the station structure interior or repainting the exterior, possibly even with a smart illuminated 'Welcome to Blackpool' signage greeting arrivals fitted during the absence of trains into the station. The interior remains the same concrete early 1930s Excursion terminal with little modernisation to its basic amenities. The walkway from the station forecourt to gain access on to Talbot Road is still the same grim experience, with a waterlogged underground passageway or concrete path to gain the upper roadway level onto Bickerstaffe Square. This is set to change with a new covered tramway terminal incorporating escalators for transferring passengers in and out of the station.

No doubt glitches and issues may have arisen behind the public facade of rail replacement public relations, but these would appear to be few and minor. One traveller recounted problems encountered at Preston Station from Blackpool (by rail replacement bus) and being given wholly incorrect information on train connections to Manchester Piccadilly by the Network Rail contracted guides positioned to meet bus passengers arriving at the station. Urgent independent due diligence by the passenger in question secured a reality check and direct connecting train south within minutes - so some training or rehiring of staff might be useful ! Otherwise steady as she goes....

One of BTS smart ADL buses having dropped off at least one passenger against a backdrop of the 'new look Blackpool' (a lot more work to do - but its a start). Below : the train boards at Blackpool North January 2018 - Buses take the strain to Preston....

PR for the masses in action :

And Welcome to Blackpool - the passageway greeting arriving passengers from : (insert any name of the town or city here).

Tired, grim and depressing third world setting - unbecoming of any British urban centre, let alone one setting itself to be a leisure resort or conference venue... Hopefully this will be a best forgotten memory with the complete eradication of the Wilko property and total makeover of the station/tram interchange layout from 2019 onwards. Images : John Woodman January 28, 2018

PS : Latest news from Network Rail and Partners concerning the electrification upgrade work and Fylde coast services this week is good and bad. Firstly the good news is that the hourly 'shuttle' service on the south Fylde line from Preston to Blackpool South is resuming this week - the single track line from Kirkham having been reopened to train operation and replacement bus service itself replaced!

The bad news is that installation of electrical pylons and gantrys along the line into Preston from Manchester has been delayed due to ground conditions revealing old mine workings and sub level problems along part of the route. This has meant that the scheduling of completion of this essential infrastructure is now behind schedule with the operation of electric train services to Blackpool facing knock on delays in 2018. The work on the Blackpool to Preston section is however meeting contractor deadlines as any viewing of the line and Blackpool North infrastructure will attest.

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