MPs calling for key upgrade to South Fylde rail line

Blackpool South station is the terminus for the South Fylde Line
Blackpool South station is the terminus for the South Fylde Line

Two local MPs have combined forces in a bid to bring about a radical improvement to the South Fylde Line rail service.

Mark Menzies, who represents Fylde, and Scott Benton, of Blackpool South, have written a joint letter to Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps asking for funding for a passing loop which would double train frequency.

MPs Mark Menzies and Scott Benton

MPs Mark Menzies and Scott Benton

Their approach follows the announcement of a £500m fund to examine bringing disused railway lines back into use, which has already prompted a visit by Mr Shapps to talk about restoring a service to Fleetwood.

The two MPs feel that passengers are being short-changed in terms of timetable frequency - almost 40 years after the South Fylde railway line lost its second track, rendering the line a ‘long siding’ which only allows for one rail service per hour to and from Preston via Kirkham and Wesham.

Mr Menzies has long backed the idea of a passing loop, with the support of rail groups, although in recent times, an integrated tram service extending to St Annes and Lytham from Blackpool has been mooted as a solution by some campaigners.

The MPs’ letter to Mr Shapps, written following a meeting with the Transport for the North pressure group, says: “Here we have a rail line which lost its second track, and the ability to run any semblance of a decent timetable.

“The line serves the towns of Kirkham, Lytham and St Annes in Fylde, and also two of the biggest tourism attractions in the UK in Blackpool South – Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Blackpool Sandcastle Waterpark.

“The Pleasure Beach alone can attract in excess of five million visitors per year, and the Sandcastle – Europe’s largest indoor waterpark – more than 300,000.

“We have met with Transport For The North and they tell us they have a minimum requirement for two services per hour on all rail lines; we need to secure funding for a passing loop to allow more than one service at a time to be on the South Fylde line.”

Mr Menzies said: “I have fought for a passing loop on this line ever since I was elected.

“It was wonderful to hear Transport For The North state we will see at least double the services on the line in future – now perhaps we have a funding mechanism to move the project on.”

His Conservative colleague Mr Benton, who beat Labour’s Gordon Marsden in December’s General Election, said: “It is ridiculous to have such a poor railway line into Blackpool South and the Pleasure Beach in particular.

“If we had a decent timetable and reliability, we could actually market the Pleasure Beach and rail tickets together – I’m sure it would give residents a much better service to use, and also bring in significant revenues for the rail companies.”

Mr Menzies added: “We should be encouraging people onto public transport at every opportunity, and not forcing them into cars.

“It makes perfect sense to get capacity up on this line as soon as possible. Once people see there are more services, and reliable services, they will use it again.”

Tony Ford, chairman of the South Fylde Community Rail Association, said: “I am really pleased that local MPs are wanting to see infrastructure improvements which would create a passing loop and so allow a more frequent service along the South Fylde Line.

“Feasibility studies have already been undertaken and this project, though relatively small in investments terms, would be a quick win for everyone."