First electric commuter train runs from Blackpool North station - VolkerRail
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First electric commuter train runs from Blackpool North station

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Following completion of the biggest upgrade to the network since the 1800’s, the first ever electric commuter train departed Blackpool North station on Sunday 20 May at 8:43am; marking a significant transformation for the North of England’s railway network.

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The 319 class electrical multiple unit, part of Northern’s newly refurbished fleet, left the station and travelled the 58 miles to Manchester Airport, stopping at 7 stations along the way.

This project marks a significant achievement in Network Rail’s multi-billion-pound Great North Rail Project and will help to ensure the railway is bigger and better, enabling a greener, quieter and more reliable railway for passengers in the north west of England.

Working with J. Murphy and Sons Ltd, Network Rail and Siemens, the initial stage saw the railway between Preston and Blackpool electrically connected to the West Coast Main Line over the 2017 Christmas period.

In total, VolkerRail installed over 200km of new overhead wiring and equipment, to connect the Preston to Blackpool line to the existing electrification network near Preston station, for the first time in history.

The culmination of this projects success was achieved through a 22-week closure of the line between November 17 and April 18, where the team renewed over 11,500 metres of plain line track, 21 switch and crossing units, installed 200,000 metres of overhead line and upgraded 8,000 metres of railway drainage systems. As part of renewing the signalling system, the team installed a new computer based interlocking, providing 84 new modern lineside signals and the removal of five obsolete signal boxes.

The team have also constructed three new bridges, upgraded Blackpool North and Kirkham and Wesham station.

Stuart Birch, VolkerRail major projects director said: “This is a very proud day for VolkerRail and demonstrates to our clients and stakeholders that new electrification schemes can be delivered on-time and within budget.

“The entry into service of the Preston – Blackpool route upgrade and electrification represents a significant milestone for the industry and is the product of effective team collaboration, substantial endeavour and in excess of two million hours worked over the last 18 months.

“VolkerRail remains committed to developing and delivering efficient rail infrastructure solutions to the delight of our customers and clients” 

Trains from Blackpool North to London commence Monday (21 May), with the first train leaving at 10:53am.

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