A long-running Sunday train service which takes Lancashire visitors to the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbria is being cancelled this summer, sparking fears for its future.

The Dales Rail charter train service has run on summer Sundays from Blackburn and Clitheroe to the Settle-Carlisle line since at least 1991, but the route's history can be traced back to 1976.

However the current availability of train drivers willing to work voluntary overtime on Sundays is a problem.

Craig Ward, from Blackburn, chairman of the Lancashire Rail Ramblers group, said: “Dales Rail has been popular, much-valued and successful.

"It gives people the opportunity to leave their cars and travel to the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbria along the Eden Valley. It attracts all sorts of people from Lancashire, from walkers to day-trippers.

“It’s a unique service in the UK, purely based around leisure. People could get off at stations along the route, whether in the Dales or Cumbrian towns and villages in the Eden Valley, and enjoy a day out."

Ramblers conduct guided walks around the service, which provides a bus link at Lancaster to Richmond in North Yorks.

Mr Ward added: "One of the issues is unreliability of train services on the west of the Pennines.

"Train drivers on the west have to volunteer to work Sunday Dales Rail services. Sunday is a day of rest for drivers on the west side, we understand. And Northern wants to avoid the need to cancel trains."

Travel Watch North West has backed ramblers in raising concerns over the Dales Rail service.

Chris Jackson, regional director for Northern, confirmed the service would not run this summer.

He added: "The service has been less reliable than we would have hoped in recent years while Sunday rosters remain outside of the working week for the majority of train crew in our west and central regions.

"Our focus in summer will therefore be providing a reliable service for our customers on routes which are in operation seven days a week.

“In making this decision, along with our other timetable changes elsewhere on the network, we’ve also had to make sure our overall timetable supports long-term value for a sustainable future, given rail industry cost challenges.

"We are working with stakeholders on proposals to resume Dales Rail in 2024.”