The South Fylde Line Community Rail Partnership (SFLCRP) has been awarded a £15k grant from Arriva Rail North’s Seedcorn Fund to undertake a study into increasing the lines capacity.
The South Fylde Line runs between (Preston), Kirkham & Wesham and Blackpool South. In the 1990s British Rail reduced the line from double track to a ‘long siding’ between Kirkham and Blackpool South that can only be operated by ‘one train in steam’. The result of this disinvestment means that only an hourly service can operate along the line with no scope to increase frequency to meet either commuter peaks or seasonal surges to Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach. The recent Great North Rail Project has seen some investment take place in the South Fylde Line which has included the reinstatement of signalling controlled from the Manchester ROC. However, this does not allow any increase in service frequency.
The line serves a population of over 1/3m people serving areas of affluence such as St Anne’s as well as regeneration areas such as Blackpool Airport, now an Enterprise Zone, and Blackpool South. The service itself operates between Blackpool South and Colne in East Lancashire thus connecting a population of nearly 800,000 people and uses the very basic ‘pacer’ class 142 units. Whilst these are scheduled to be withdrawn prior to 2020 they will only be replaced by equally aged class 150 units – although hopefully refurbished to a higher standard.
As a result of the disinvestment in the line there have been frequent calls for the service to be improved. A number of studies commissioned by Lancashire County Council, Blackpool Borough Council and the South Fylde Line CRP have confirmed that an improved service would increase usage of the line possibly doubling it from the current circa 300,000 passenger journeys per year. Yet to provide an improved service requires investment in the lines reduced infrastructure.
The seedcorn application was made to develop this recommendation through the commissioning of Network Rail to undertake an initial GRIP 0/1 study to establish what interventions are required to enable the doubling of the train service frequency. The study will examine a range of options and provide high level estimates of the costs of each option. The scope of the study has been discussed and agreed between the client and Network Rail and this is set out in a Client Requirement Document (CRD).
This will also enable the business case work necessary to secure the external funding that will be needed to deliver the service enhancement.
A partnership consisting of three local authorities, namely Blackpool Council (lead body), Lancashire County Council and Fylde Borough Council, the South Fylde Line Community Rail Partnership and Community Rail Lancashire have worked with Network Rail and agreed a CRD for the project. The seedcorn grant will enable the partnership led by Blackpool Borough Council and Community Rail Lancashire to commission Network Rail to identify the interventions required to enable a 100% increase in the train service. Network Rail will also provide high level costs for the interventions pending their further refinement through the Network Rail GRIP process. The study will also enable the business case for the project to be revisited and updated.