A SIX-month wait for a train after the completion of a long-awaited railway line has been labelled ‘absurd’ by critics.
Work to reinstate the 500-metre Todmorden Curve is almost complete but regular rail services are not due to start until at least December because of a lack of rolling stock.
It is estimated the new line will help unlock 1,000 jobs and bring £100million investment to East Lancashire and Burnley, in particular, which was voted the most enterprising borough in the UK last year.
Burnley’s deputy council leader Coun Mark Townsend said that it is ‘highly frustrating’ that the track is in place and the station is almost ready to be opened.
He said: “It is really quite absurd that after we have been waiting years for this to happen - and we have done what could have been considered as the hard part and secured the station and track - that we are still waiting.
“We all know that the economy has now started to grow at last and we want to secure the economic benefits of that for Burnley.”
Hyndburn MP Graham Jones has investigated the lack of rolling stock with a major train leasing company and been told that all of their carriages are currently being leased.
The only fresh rolling stock is being made available - to southern franchises - which should ‘free up’ diesel trains for the north, according to a letter by Porterbrook.
Mr Jones said: “It is clear that the north is a poor cousin of the south. That the new line to Manchester will only receive a 'hand me down' diesel engine once new trains have been built and acquired for Southern Trains operating franchise.
“It's about time new rolling stock started off in the north and hand-me-downs given to London and the south.
“What message does it send to businesses and visitors to the north when they themselves can see that it is second class peripheral region as far as infrastructure and transport are concerned?”
Peter Brass, a Clitheroe newsagent and an experienced rail campaigner, said rolling stock could be found if diesel units were transferred from the Settle to Carlisle line, where they could be replaced by hiring Mark II carriages, which would be far more attractive to tourists.
He added: “This would free up the rolling stock for the Todmorden Curve and generate extra revenue for Northern Rail on the Settle to Carlisle line.”
The rail track was relaid as part of an £8.8million initiative promising a faster rail service from Blackburn, Burnley and Accrington to Manchester, and transport improvements for Burnley’s Weavers’ Triangle.
Vital strengthening works have also been undertaken for the Holme Tunnel, at Cliviger, allowing trains to run at higher speeds between Burnley and Todmorden.
Coun Townsend said that it was particularly disappointing that rolling stock had been found for expansion projects in the south.
Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle said: “The latest information I had was that it could be late October.
“It is just unfortunate because the station is nearly completed and the track is on scheduled to be completed.”
Earlier this year the Rail Minister Stephen Hammond confirmed that a series of developments within the rail industry would see a train provided for the East Lancashire to Manchester service.
Bosses at train operator Northern Rail have indicated that the service, which will call additionally at Rosegrove in Burnley and Church and Oswaldtwistle on Sundays, is set to start in December.
But they have insisted that there was no spare rolling stock to divert to the line before the latest switch-around.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “Owing to complications completing the final stages of signalling on the Todmorden Curve, further time is needed to complete the work.
“This will require taking possession of the railway which will mean changes to services in the area. We have worked with Northern Rail to plan for this and the possession will take place over the bank holiday weekend.
“We apologise for any inconvenience this will cause and advise passengers to check National Rail Enquiries before they travel for the latest information.”
Train users in East Lancashire are already facing major upheavals from next Monday with the introduction of new timetables.
Regular services along the Colne to Blackpool South line, through Pendle, Burnley, Hyndburn and Blackburn, will be 30 minutes earlier to accommodate new electrified trains on the Manchester to Preston route operated by Trans-Pennine Express.