The chairman of the East Lancashire Railway said a bid to restore rail services between Rawtenstall, Bury and Manchester would harm the heritage line.

Mike Kelly said the development being explored by Rossendale County Council would 'threaten the efficient and effective operations of, and at worst, force the complete closure of the heritage railway line'.

Last week, council leaders welcomed the news that a bid to restore rail services for commuters had been approved by central government.

Leaders said the success of Rossendale Council’s bid to the government’s Restoring Your Railways fund meant it would also receive contributions from Lancashire County Council and the Department for Transport towards the cost of developing a strategic outline business case.

The announcement marked an early success in the project to create a regular passenger service using the same infrastructure as the existing heritage railway.

Rossendale Council leader Alyson Barnes said at the time: “This is a huge step forward for the link that is very much needed for Rossendale to help in securing the local economy with inward investment, job creation and also the environmental benefits that the link could bring."

However, on Friday, chairman of the East Lancashire Railway, Mike Kelly, said: “While we understand the desire for greater connectivity between Rossendale and Manchester, imposing a commuter service to run on the heritage railway is not the way to go about it.

"This will be the fourth such study in nine years, many of which have concluded this proposed commuter line isn’t economically viable and would require enormous capital investment and annual subsidies.

“The development would, at best, threaten the efficient and effective operations of, and at worst force the complete closure of the heritage railway line operated by East Lancashire Railway (ELR), thus threatening the growth plans in Bury town centre, Ramsbottom and for Rochdale at Heywood and Castleton."

Mr Kelly said the East Lancashire Railway is a leading tourist attraction in the region, and has hosted important educational visits, created jobs, and contributed £8million annually into local economies.

He added: "The award-winning railway, rescued from dereliction by volunteers, is a unique ‘living history’ experience that hundreds of thousands of visitors attend every year and if remodelled in the modern form, those important heritage features will be lost forever.

“It is our considered view that a new commuter line cannot co-exist with the existing East Lancashire heritage line that our volunteers have given so much time and effort to preserve over the last 30 plus years.

“This new study should look instead at alternative, more cost effective, deliverable options to improve transport links between Manchester and Rossendale.”