THE planned congestion charge in Manchester could boost the drive to renovate a run-down Burnley railway station and offer direct trains to the city.

But councillors have been told by officers the town's Central station will have to become unmanned if Manchester Road station is spruced up as planned.

Town Hall bosses want to spend £2.5million improving Manchester Road and hope it will coincide with Burnley's direct rail link to Manchester being restored.

Transport experts have said reinstating the Todmorden Curve, which would offer direct 38-minute rail journeys into the city, will cost around £4million - but a modern Manchester Road station is needed to make it viable.

Steven Broomhead, chief executive of the Northwest Development Agency (NWDA), which could help bankroll the direct link, said the scheme would become more attractive if Manchester brought in a congestion charge.

He said: "We recognise the Todmorden Curve as a strategic priority for improving access between Manchester and East Lancashire, given the strength of the Manchester economy.

"I think it is important and it would sit well in discussions about congestion charging.

"We see it as a key way of improving transport links into Manchester and it is also something that Prince Charles asked about when he visited Burnley, so there's royal interest in it too."

Talks are now likely to take place later in the year, with Network Rail and Northern Rail ready to back the scheme if the NWDA does the same.

Meanwhile, Coun Gordon Birtwistle, Burnley Council's leader, has insisted that Central station will still be boosted, even if staff are moved to Manchester Road.

He said: "Central station will be revamped to make it more attractive but it will not be manned.

"The manning will be transported to Manchester Road. The idea is to build a new station at Manchester Road because it is busy but Central station is quiet."

The Lancashire Telegraph revealed last month that council bosses planned a £2.5million renovation of Manchester Road station to coincide with a direct link to Manchester by 2011, while proposals to improve Central were unveiled in March.

It followed criticism in 2006, when MPs and transport experts said Burnley's central and Manchester Road stations were among the worst in the country.

Meanwhile trains from Burnley to Manchester via Hebden Bridge could soon be more frequent, rail chiefs have said.

Northern Rail wants to increase services from Hebden Bridge to the city from two an hour to three every 60 minutes.

The changes could be brought in from December following a consultation with passengers.