He was also told the good news that Network Rail and principal contractor Amco had looked again at the project to find more efficient ways of working. As a result, costs have been reduced and a heated waiting room will now be added to the list of benefits for passengers.
Mr Straw visited the worksite where he was given a presentation by Network Rail and Amco before looking at the actual work. On hand to answer questions were representatives from the Department for Transport and the council, who are funding the project, and train operator Northern.
During the visit, Mr Straw said: “When I first came to Blackburn 37 years ago services were pretty awful - there was an air of depression round the railways. Happily, in the last 15 years that’s changed.
“The fact that platform 4 is now being used is an indication of the increase in the number of people riding the trains. The increase in ridership and people using this station has been astonishing.”
Network Rail scheme sponsor Alan Howarth, said: “When the station was substantially rebuilt in 2000, the new station roof did not extend to cover platform four. At the time, the then owners Railtrack did not think the platform would be used regularly.
“However, with the increase in demand for trains the platform came to be used more often. Mr Straw is one of a number of people who called for proper facilities to be provided for passengers, so it is good to be able to show him what we are doing.”
Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “Train travel continues to grow in popularity and it is important that everyone is able to access the railways – that is why we have contributed £1.7m from our Access for All initiative to upgrading Blackburn station. In total we are committed to spending £370m on upgrading stations across Britain for people with reduced mobility.”
Councillor Eileen Entwistle, lead member for regeneration, said: “I am delighted that the work is now underway as the new platform will greatly improve Blackburn stations passenger facilities. This is yet another step in improving the borough’s rail network and promoting train as an alternative way to travel from the car.”
Lee Wasnidge, area director for Northern, added: “Our passengers and employees will benefit greatly from the planned improvements to Blackburn station. Showing these plans to the Rt Hon Jack Straw, who has always shown an interest in improvements, allows us to demonstrate how our passengers’ journey experience through Blackburn station will be enhanced.”
By the time winter sets in, passengers using platform four will be able to do so in comfort. Virtually the entire length of the platform will be under cover and now there will also be a heated waiting room for them to use.
There will also be a windbreak at the back of the platform incorporating the stainless steel photographic screen, new lighting, information screens, announcement system and CCTV.
A new lift is also going to be built to link platform four to the rest of the station, making it much easier for everyone to get access to trains. At the moment, passengers in wheelchairs and those with luggage or children in buggies have to struggle up a very steep slope to get to the platform.
The work will cost about £1.7m and is funded from the Department for Transport’s Access for All and National Stations Improvement programmes and includes a £200,000 contribution from Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council.
While at the station, Mr Straw unveiled artwork produced by pupils from Daisyfield Primary School. The project partners have been working with the school and the end result is a safety poster that will go on display in one of the station waiting rooms.