A £9million scheme to create a direct rail link between Burnley and Manchester has been given the go-ahead.
Jubilant campaigners said the Todmorden Curve project was ‘absolutely vital’ to the future prosperity of Burnley and the local area.
Calls to restore the line have been made for over 50 years and the project should reduce train travel times between Burnley and Manchester’s Victoria station to around 35 minutes.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg confirmed the project can now go ahead with investment from the Regional Growth Fund (RGF).
An estimated £85million worth of knock-on benefits, particularly for the Weavers’ Triangle area, and 130 jobs established, are predicted.
More than £24million is set to be invested across East Lancashire, by the RGF, to help businesses pull clear of the recession and support inward investment.
No timescale has yet been given for the Todmorden Curve scheme.
Currently commuters are forced to extend their journey to Hebden Bridge, to connect with a Manchester-bound service, or change at Blackburn, in the opposite direction.
Yesterday’s announcement completes a regeneration hat-trick for Burnley, following the £3.8million European Regional Development Fund backing for Burnley Bridge Business Park and confirmation a new university training college will be constructed within the Weavers’ Triangle.
Work is also set to start upgrading Burnley Manchester Road station.
Stephen Martin, chairman of campaign group Save the East Lancashire Line Association (STELLA), said: “This will mean a much shorter journey for passengers and save us having to make connections at Blackburn, which are particularly poor at the moment.”
Supporters of the bid included Burnley Council, Barnfield Investment Properties, Network Rail and Lancashire County Council.
Council leader Coun Charlie Briggs said: “I am really proud of all those who have made this possible, and proud of the partnership working between businesses and the public sector.
“Our local MP, Gordon Birtwistle, has been an important influence as he been very active in pressing the case for this and a number of other economic development priorities.”
Mr Birtwistle said: “There were many who believed this day would never come, who believed our heritage had no part in our future, who doubted Burnley could ever have a commutable ‘city-offer’.
“This is a sign that we’re on the way. This government has delivered, and over the coming years jobs will result from this announcement. This is great news for Burnley and the surrounding area too.”
County councillor Tim Ashton, Lancashire’s transport cabinet member, added: “Creating a fast rail link between Burnley and Manchester is our number one priority in terms of improving rail transport in the county in response to the needs of our communities.
“Reinstating the Todmorden Curve is vital for boosting jobs and economic growth in this part of Lancashire, so I am very pleased that central government has recognised the hard work of all involved and approved this bid.”
Former Burnley MP Peter Pike, now the borough’s Labour party chairman, said he pursued the scheme in Parliament and formerly as council leader.
“I have always believed that this major improvement in communications for Burnley would be the biggest single factor in ensuring a good economic future for Burnley,” he added.
The move has also been heralded by Whitehall and transport campaigners further afield.
Transport Minister Theresa Villiers hailed the Todmorden Curve and Weavers’ Triangle projects as ‘great’, with the potential to bring higher-paid jobs to Burnley.
She added: “Burnley has been waiting for the Todmorden Curve for so long and today’s announcement is a huge step forward to making this new stretch of railway a reality.”
Simon Leyshon, of Network Rail, said: “The Todmorden Curve project will put Burnley within commuting distance of Manchester and open up all the tourist and leisure opportunities the city has to offer.”
Stephen Joseph, of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “ By filling in this infamous missing link on the rail network, Burnley and other Lancashire towns will get much quicker services to Manchester, improving access for employment and helping address the deprivation in the area.
“We hope the Government will look at other rail re-openings as a means of reviving local economies.”