Moves to create a direct commuter rail link to Manchester have been labelled “a shambles” after it was revealed that the track will lie unused for an entire year.
The £8.8m replacement of the ‘Todmorden Curve’ stretch of track was completed in May, but rail bosses now say services will not starting running on the line until May 2015 at the earliest.
The Observer launched its ‘Get us Back on Track’ campaign earlier this year when it was revealed that a shortage of rolling stock would delay the opening of the line until December.
But rail bosses this week confirmed the opening of the rail line which will link Accrington to Manchester has been hit by a further delay of at least six months.
They say it will take until February next year to complete signalling work and the line is not expected to be fully functioning until May.
Hyndburn MP Graham Jones, who has spearheaded the Observer’s rail campaign, hit out at the announcement and said it contradicted the government’s positive message on the region’s rail.
He said: “It’s a shambles. The Chancellor George Osborne has been to the North twice in the last month to talk about how the government are going to improve rail services, but it is just talk.”
Hyndburn council leader Miles Parkinson said the delays were “appalling”.
He said: “Time and again we seem to be at the end of the line, we’re talking about a few hundred metres of track. It’s simply appalling after what was promised, everything seems to go down south.
“The prosperity of this borough and East Lancashire doesn’t seem to be a priority for this government, they are neglecting this part of the north.”
He added: “I think it shows a lack of strategic management. We want to deliver first class transport links to a major city, we spent so much time making plans on how we were going to launch this rail link.”
Shadow Rail Minister Lilian Greenwood, who visited Accrington train station last week and collected names of commuters for a petition on the campaign, was also critical. She said: “It’s unacceptable that the first trains to Manchester will be at least a year late. Government incompetence means that £9 million of public money has been spent on a track with no trains, and I know just how much those direct services will mean to Accrington.”
Rail infrastructure owner Network Rail said it was working jointly with train operator Northern Rail on a timetable for the works.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “The new track for the Todmorden Curve was built earlier this year and part of the signalling required to safely operate trains on the line has been installed allowing services to run in one direction.”
She said active tracks linked to the new line would have to be closed for the work to be carried out and that it was not possible for it to be completed without causing major disruption to passengers before February.
She added: “We have been working with Northern Rail to agree a time to do this which meets the requirements of both organisations.
“It is proposed that the signalling work is completed by February 2015 with the line open fully in time for the timetable change in May.”
A Northern Rail spokesman said: “We have been working closely with Lancashire County Council and other partners to introduce a new service from Manchester to Blackburn via the Todmorden Curve as soon as practically possible. To enable that to happen there is some work to complete on the signalling.