Improving the South Fylde rail line

I have campaigned for improvements to the South Fylde line, serving Kirkham, Lytham, St Annes and through to Blackpool South ever since I was elected. We now have an active Restoring Your Railway bid to double rail services on the line through the installation of a passing loop.

First and foremost, we need to at least double the frequency of services to make this a viable line for commuters, students and visitors.

I also campaigned for vast improvements at Kirkham Train Station, particularly in relation to access to the platforms, increased frequency of service on the line, and much-improved rolling stock.

I'm delighted to say we have secured some real investment on the line - but there is plenty more to do and I am still lobbying ministers and pressing the case for the line, which serves one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country, Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

Here are some of my most recent actions and the latest state of play.

 

Restoring Your Railway bid (Passing Loop)

30 June 2020
Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris announced 50 bids to build or reopen lines and stations closed during the Beeching cuts, with the potential to level up regional economies and boost access to jobs and education, have been received across England and Wales, including our bid for the South Fylde line passing loop.
These proposals for the restoration of lines and stations to re-connect their communities will now be considered by an expert panel including Network Rail Chair Sir Peter Hendy, with announcements regarding the successful schemes expected by the end of the summer.
Mr Heaton-Harris said: "Receiving so many bids once again underlines how passionate people are about reconnecting communities.
"MPs, councillors and community leaders are the greatest champions of their local lines, and I look forward to working with them to ensure the projects with the greatest potential have the support they need.
"Improving local transport links is vital as we level up access to opportunities across the country, reconnect communities and kickstart our recovery from Covid-19."
As part of the Restoring Your Railway Fund, the government also announced the third round of the New Stations Fund, which will invest £20 million in new stations and help restore closed stations to their former glory. The fund has now closed with a decision on successful applicants due in the Autumn.

19 June 2020
I lodged a full Restoring Your Railway bid to double train services on the South Fylde line, along with Blackpool South MP Scott Benton.
We joined forces to put together the bid for a passing loop on the line, which would allow for a service between Preston and Blackpool South every 30 minutes. The bid was handed to the Department for Transport on June 19, 2020.
The scheme was lodged with the full support of Northern Rail, Rail North, Transport for the North, Lancashire County, Blackpool and Fylde councils, as well as passenger, community rail, and business groups.
Ever since I was elected as Fylde MP I have called for a passing loop on this line. It is vital we improve services to make this line viable for commuters and students to use. For too long we have been short-changed on our railway.
Too many services have been running late and too many are cancelled. The potential of a two-hour wait between trains means many people will not even consider using the line.
On top of the three per cent of services that were cancelled, we have some 173 services in the past 12 months which turned back to Preston early and did not reach Squires Gate, Blackpool Pleasure Beach or Blackpool South.
That is the equivalent of the loss of nine and a half days’ services. We must have a better rail system to Blackpool South.
The bid involves laying around three miles of track between Lytham and St Annes stations, the creation of a new rail platform at Ansdell and Fairhaven Station, the installation of signalling along the line, and potential platform changes at Preston Station. There is scope for improvements to St Annes and Lytham Stations, should Network Rail decide it would rather include those stations within the passing loop – but that would be decided further along the process.
Three feasibility studies have been carried out on the line to highlight the need for improved services.

12 June 2020
I joined a Transport for the North discussion: Strategic Rail - Getting the North back on track.
In this discussion, with rail experts including Transport for the North's strategic rail director David Hoggarth and Transport Focus passenger director David Sidebottom, we highlighted how the strategic rail network has huge potential to deliver new jobs, accelerated economic growth and help us tackle the decarbonisation challenge. We need substantial investment to level up and deliver real change in the North.
We highlighted the need for infrastructure spending to concentrate on multiple smaller projects, such as our South Fylde line, to ensure that spending delivers results in communities across the North.

11 June 2020
I took part in a Restoring Your Railways Virtual Event with Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris regarding the Restoring Your Railway scheme. The webinar give us a better understanding of the Restoring Your Railway Fund and how to ensure our bid would be completed correctly. We were able to see which data statistics we would need to use to demonstrate why our bid would represent value for money.

26 May 2020
Met with Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak to highlight the economic benefits an improved South Fylde line would bring; better access to the Blackpool Airport Enterprise Zone, and improved prospects for people living along the line - better access to employment and education. I highlighted the project as perfect for the 'levelling up'; agenda; some of the country's most disadvantaged neighbourhood areas surround Blackpool South station.

26 February 2020
I met with senior representatives of the Office for Road and Rail (ORR) in Parliament to press the case for a passing loop on the South Fylde line. I highlighted the fact we have a single-track line to one of the UK's biggest tourist attractions - Blackpool Pleasure Beach - limiting trains to one per hour, rendering the line almost unusable. The ORR is a non-ministerial Government department established by and directly accountable to Parliament. Its role is to protect the interests of current and future rail and road users with oversight on safety, value and performance of rail infrastructure. There was clear agreement the frequency of services on the line was simply not good enough.

13 February 2020
I met with Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism Helen Whately, after I called for better roads and rail services during a debate on the tourism industry.
I met with the Minister and told her that it is all very well and good having great seaside resorts, but not if we do not have the right infrastructure in place to get people to and from them.
I asked for the meeting to discuss how the Government can support tourism in Fylde by funding better services and infrastructure.
I highlighted the need for better rail services to make the South Fylde line a viable option for visitors and holiday-makers; One service per hour, with multiple cancelled services and many which turn back early, is simply not good enough for visitors to rely on.

February 2020
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Sport Tourism and Heritage Nigel Huddleston MP wrote to me to note my letters to Tourism Minister Helen Whately and Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps regarding the South Fylde line. He stated: "I note your concerns about rail services potentially impacting the growth of tourism in your constituency."

5 February 2020
I wrote to Tourism Minister Helen Whately to highlight the need for better transport links to our coastal communities.

29 January 2020
I, and Blackpool South MP Scott Benton, wrote to Grant Shapps in his capacity as Secretary of State for Transport, and the Northern Powerhouse Minister, to ask for funding for the South Fylde Railway line and the M55 link Road. We detailed the need for extra capacity for commuters and students, and why more services would help level up our coastal communities. The rail link would also benefit the Blackpool Airport Enterprise Zone.

23 January 2020
A meeting with Rail Minister Chris Heaton Harris unfortunately had to be cancelled due to diary conflicts in his department.

5 July 2019
I invited Transport for the North to Fylde to discuss the South Fylde line, M55 link road, Preston West Distributor Road and possible new crossing over the Ribble.
Rail director Tim Wood and stakeholder engagement officer Lewis Leach visited Fylde and I made it clear what we needed on the South Fylde line. They gave me a commitment to a minimum of two services per hour on the line which they recognised was under-used due to the poor levels of service on a single-track line. The South Fylde line was included in their masterplan for improvements.

8 February 2019
I met with Trams to Lytham to discuss the wider idea of a tram loop encompassing the entire Fylde coast, linking trams from Fleetwood all the way down to Kirkham. This is a huge project, and one which will cost upwards of £500 million. While the idea has merit, I do not want to see it at the expense of our trains and an improved rail timetable. The tram plan would take years to come to fruition while a passing loop is a relatively small upgrade which could be completed quickly. The passing loop could potentially become a part of a combined rail / light rail system in future.

27 November 2018
I met with rail minister Andrew Jones to urge him to back plans which could double services on our line. He and senior officials from the Department of Transport met with me to talk about the South Fylde line after I raised the matter in Parliament.
It was a very productive meeting in which I outlined the overwhelming case for a passing loop on the South Fylde line. A passing loop would bring about an increase in capacity and frequency of service on the line, but it would also ensure trains would be more effectively aligned with outgoing and incoming services at Preston.
As a result of my previous work on this, a study is now being undertaken to look at the costs and benefits of the scheme. The minister asked to be kept fully informed of the outcome of this work.

22 November 2018
I asked Rail Minister Andrew Jones in Parliament: "Following our summer of severe service disruption that saw Northern rail cancel more than 12,000 services, will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how we can ensure that it does not happen next year? More importantly, though, can we also discuss the building of the South Fylde line, which will see the doubling of the service from once an hour to every half an hour, as it will be a huge boost to the Fylde coast?"
He told me: "We have been very clear that disruption following the introduction of the May timetable was entirely unacceptable. I would, of course, be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss his proposals and the work that is under way to ensure that we minimise the risk of disruption for future timetable changes."

23 January 2018
I wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport to ask, pursuant to the Answer of 21 December 2017 to Question 120042, for what reasons the Answer of 11 December 2017 to Question 117958 stated that the decision to increase service frequency would be a commercial decision for the Train Operating Company to make when his Department has stated that it is not feasible for Northern Rail to increase the frequency of trains from the current hourly service on the South Fylde line without upgrading the existing single-track line infrastructure.
Minister of State for the Department of Transport Jo Johnson replied: “In the event that the South Fylde line did upgrade the existing single-track line infrastructure or the Train Operating Company were able to otherwise realise greater capacity on the network through other means it would be a commercial decision for the Train Operating Company to make.
“The current terms of our franchise agreement do not require or financially support the Train Operating Company’s operation of an additional level of frequency beyond the current levels.”

14 December 2017
I wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport to ask: “Pursuant to the Answer of 11 December 2017 to Question 117958, what discussions his Department has had with Network Rail on installing the requisite infrastructure to enable the doubling of the frequency of train services on the South Fylde line?”
Rail minister Paul Maynard answered: “In line with our devolution policies, it would be for a local body or promoter to develop the business case for public funding to improve local connectivity by increasing the frequency of train services on the South Fylde line and installing any necessary supporting infrastructure.
“Blackpool will however benefit from the upgrade to the Preston - Blackpool currently in delivery. The tracks are being replaced and realigned to make journeys better. At Kirkham & Wesham station, new tracks and a new platform will help to better manage train services and reduce delays.”
I wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport to ask: “Pursuant to the Answer of 11 December 2017 to Question 117958, what assessment his Department has made of the practicability of Northern Rail increasing the frequency of train services on the South Fylde line without Network Rail taking steps to update the existing single-track line?”
Mr Maynard replied: “Given that the branch is single-track from Blackpool South to Kirkham & Wesham, and the typical journey time is about 27 minutes in each direction, we have assessed that an hourly service is the best that can be managed on the existing infrastructure.”

 

Kirkham Station
I was delighted to unveil a plaque at the reopening of Kirkham and Wesham station in September 2018 following a multi-million revamp.
The station now has new track, a new platform and two lifts serving them.
I lobbied ministers and rail bosses for these lifts since I was elected; the huge flight of stairs was no use for the elderly, anyone with a disability, anyone with shopping or a pushchair.
The changes mean this station is finally accessible for everyone and I am very pleased at the standard of work.
I met with Network Rail and Northern Rail managers throughout the project.
The station has also benefited from a new track layout thanks to the electrification of the Blackpool North line which passes through the station. This means trains on the South Fylde line do not have to wait for those from the North to pass and vice-versa.
The job here is not quite done yet though; I want to see more parking created at the station and the works have revealed a large swathe of land which would be ideal for a car park.
Talks are now ongoing between my office, Fylde Council, Northern Rail and Network Rail as to the feasibility of creating a car park.
I want to see residents around the station able to park outside their own homes, and to see surrounding roads safer. This car park would benefit passengers and local residents alike, and I will keep up pressure on all parties to press for a car park at the station. A feasibility study is under way to look at land to the North of the station, on land to the rear of the new platform which would offer flat-level access to the station.

 

Rolling Stock
The rolling stock on the South Fylde line is completely unacceptable. I have continually called for improvements to be made and, I am pleased to say, these calls have been heeded.
The much-hated Pacer trains, based on flatbed truck designs and which still deposit toilet waste on the lines, will be gone late in 2019. They have no place on a modern railway.
In April 2016, Northern announced it was investing £580 million in 98 new electric and diesel trains.
Hundreds more trains are being refurbished and rebuilt and all should be on the tracks by December 2019.
I have called on rail bosses to improve standards on the South Fylde line several times, and I was delighted when this announcement was made.
The electric trains will obviously not run on the South Fylde line, but I hope to see the new and refurbished diesel trains serving the constituency.
Northern has told me: "The new trains, and the technology on board will require a completely new maintenance regime and while the new trains are being built Northern will be making major updates to some of its depots and training the employees who will be undertaking that work. In addition, all of Northern’s on-train crews need to be trained, ready to take the units into service in December 2018."
These trains are better for the environment, cleaner, more comfortable, have more facilities, and will improve travel for us all. I expect rail user numbers to increase as the dreaded Pacer train leaves the lines for good.

 

Line upgrade

Following lobbying of ministers and rail bosses, I am pleased to see all stations being improved along the South Fylde line.
Along with all of the improvements at Kirkham and Wesham, ticket machines are being installed at every station. There have been some physical improvement works to stations along the line, and our In Bloom teams have worked wonders to plant up many of our stations.
If you have an issue with any of these stations, please get in touch and I will take the issue up with the relevant authorities.