Closing the Blackpool Line

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Today, 10th November 2017, it has been announced that the line from Preston to Blackpool is to be closed for 19 weeks, to carryout ‘electrification works’, and a replacement bus service will operate instead.  But not all of the line is to be electrified, since only the ‘northern’ route via Poulton will receive the overall benefit, whilst the coastal line through Lytham, St Annes and Blackpool South will remain non-electrified – wonder how that will affect the choice of multiple units to be used.

I imagine this must be because either Network Rail don’t have the necessary technical and management skills, or sufficient resources and experience to electrify the line whilst maintaining a train service.  However did we manage to electrify the West and East Coast main lines in the 1960s and 1980s/90s and still run a train service.

Between 11th November 2017 and 28th January 2018, no trains will run to Blackpool, Lytham, and all points in between at all.  The route to Blackpool South will re-open at the end of January, but the line from Kirkham to Blackpool North will stay closed until 25th March.

The line to Blackpool North from Preston remains a double track route, whilst the ‘coastal route’ between Kirkham, Lytham, St Annes and Blackpool South was reduced to single track many years ago.

However, I have a question – why would Network Rail and the DfT consider that it must close the whole of the double track line to Blackpool??

The work is being carried out as part of the “Great North Rail Project” which, according to Network Rail will “..deliver modern, faster, more frequent and more comfortable train services across one of the largest rail networks in the country.”  On top of this, services will be more reliable, greener and have more seats, on new trains.

Surely, the reliability and comfort/efficiency of train operations will be down to the capability of the train operating companies, and not just the infrastructure manager alone.  I appreciate that resignalling will create, along with electrification a much improved rail line, but it’s not just NetworkRail’s job to see that it really happens.

For the moment – and until the end of March 2018, passengers will have to manage their journeys differently – has the economic risk and impact of closing the line for almost 5 months been considered?  The single line section from Kirkham around the coast to Blackpool South also includes Squires Gate Station – handy for access to Blackpool Airport – would there be a risk to air passengers?

Interestingly, Blackpool North was earmarked for closure under the 1963 Beeching proposals, whilst the line to Fleetwood was closed, was closed to passenger traffic, but retained in part.  The Fylde Coast lines were still generating considerable passenger traffic – albeit seasonal – 50 years ago, and between 2009 and 2012, the remaining stations in Blackpool saw year on year increases, and now at around 2 million passengers annually.

The electrification is clearly both welcome and needed – just a pity the line is to close for 5 months.

Further reading:

https://www.northernrailway.co.uk/news/improvements/1435-preston-to-blackpool-11-november-2017-25-march-2018

http://www.lancashire.gov.uk/lancashire-insight/transport/railway-stations-usage.aspx

https://www.networkrail.co.uk/running-the-railway/our-routes/lnw/north-west-electrification/preston-blackpool-north/

-oOo-

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