RAIL passengers are being urged to give their views on the future of train services across East Lancashire for 2016 and beyond.

Northern Rail operates the East Lancashire line, from Colne to Preston, and Clitheroe to Manchester route, through Blackburn and Darwen, as part of its northern franchise.

But the Department of Transport, after granting an extension to the present operator, is now looking to see who will run the network, also stretching across Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Yorkshire and Cheshire, from February 2016.

Potential bidders are being reminded that the new faster Blackburn to Manchester service, through Accrington and Burnley Manchester Road and scheduled for December, must be taken into consideration, alongside council-funded improvements from Blackburn to Bolton.

And any new franchisee will also have to produce proposals for upgraded rolling stock, with many of the present ‘Pacer’ and ‘Sprinter’ trains in service more than 20 years old – and many not wheelchair-accessible.

Fare-dodging is another factor in the mix, as rail bosses admit that a ‘high proportion’ of current trips are not paid for, either deliberate or through a lack of ticketing facilities.

A DoT spokesman said: “We are committed to specifying new franchises that make a greater contribution to the prosperity of the North of England, in order to underpin the £3.5billion investment in new infrastructure.

“We want rail services that drive forward growth and bring about a transformation in overall rail service provision.”

An announcement is expected on the shortlist for successful bidders in August, before the winner is revealed in October 2015.

The franchise will last between eight to 10 years, with the option of a one-year extension, at the Secretary of State’s discretion.

Lancashire’s consultation over the franchise award will take place at County Hall in Preston on Thursday, from 10.30am.