Published: 27th September 2014
West Coast Main Line (WCML) train operator, Virgin Trains has been given Regulatory Authority to commence direct train services between Shrewsbury, Blackpool and London from December. The plans have been approved by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) following negotiations with Network Rail, Virgin and other operators.
These services were in all the WCML franchise bids for the franchise that was initially awarded to First group but after legal challenge, remained with Virgin.
The Shrewsbury services will commence on 14th December 2014 and are claimed to be part of a range of service improvements on the WCML route that coincide with the award of Virgin Trains’ extended franchise. The reality is that these train paths have been subject to political pressure by the DfT, Network Rail (NR) and Virgin and it must be remembered that NR is now a Government department as is the DfT. The latter awarded Virgin another franchise extension detailing the extra services which re-instate trains that ran up to a few years ago.
So it could be argued that they are not new services but ones that have been re-instated due to political pressure and will coincidentally commence just months before the General Election.
The trains will not be all new as they will be existing services extended from Wolverhampton and Preston respectively. Shrewsbury gains a pair of trains each way on weekdays at 0639am and 3.24pm. These arrive at Euston at 9.15am and 5.56pm calling at Telford, Wellington then Wolverhampton in the morning. The return workings departs Euston at 1023am and 6.23pm arriving in Shrewsbury at 1258pm and 8:55pm respectively.
Blackpool North regains its direct service to London from January 15 with one train a day in each direction on weekdays departing at 525am calling at Kirkham & Wesham, Poulton le Flyde and Preston arriving at Euston at 8.34am. The train returns from Euston at 4.33pm taking just under three hours to reach Blackpool.
“It’s an exciting time for everyone involved with Virgin Trains,” explained Lead Executive Phil Whittingham. “With our extended franchise we are able to get back to doing what we do best, offering new journey opportunities whilst still delivering the same high standards of service to our customers.
“We have worked hard with our industry partners to gain the approval for these new services. Special thanks must go to the ORR, Network Rail and the Department for Transport. We thank them all for this big vote of confidence.”
“We couldn’t be more pleased and are really looking forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure they are a success and become a permanent fixture of the railway timetable.”
A spokesman for Network Rail said: "Direct trains between London and Blackpool and Shrewsbury will be a valuable addition to the services which already connect both towns to the rest of the rail network. They will provide greater business and leisure opportunities and will support and develop local economic growth as a result of improved access to the capital.
“We have worked closely with Virgin Trains, the ORR and the wider industry to make this possible to help meet the demands of passengers and will continue to do so ahead of the first services being introduced in December 2014.”