A popular service linking East Lancs to the Yorkshire Dales is set to return today for the first time.

Rail enthusiasts had feared the route, known as Dales Rail, would be lost after it was axed last summer amid a shortage of drivers willing to work on Sundays.

But the service, now redubbed the Yorkshire Dales Explorer, is being relaunched as a Saturday service - the first train will call into Darwen at 8.56am, Blackburn at 9.08am and Clitheroe at 9.31am, serving intermediate stations at Ramsgreave & Wilpshire, Langho and Whalley.

Another later train will arrive at Darwen (3.56pm), Blackburn (4.15pm) and Clitheroe (4.38pm). Return journeys will depart from Ribblehead at 11.08am and 6.05pm.

Passengers will be able to change at Ribblehead for other stations en-route to Carlisle, such as Garsdale, Kirby Stephen and Appleby.

Craig Harrop, regional director for train operator Northern, said: “We’re excited to introduce this new service that will allow customers to travel into the heart of the Dales at a reasonable price this summer.

"They can get off the train at Hellifield, Settle, Horton-in-Ribblesdale or Ribblehead if they want to get out and explore the spectacular national park.”

County Cllr Rupert Swarbrick, Lancahsire's transport cabinet member, added: "The new links offered by the Yorkshire Dales Explorer will improve connectivity and will also support Lancashire’s vital tourism economy by providing further opportunities for people from across the North to access the Ribble Valley and visit our historic market towns such as Clitheroe.

"I look forward to working closely with our partners to highlight the many great destinations, events and activities which people can reach using the new explorer service.”

Lizzie Bushby, the member champion for recreation management at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: “We’re really pleased that Northern is running this service.

"It will provide opportunities for visitors from the North West to visit the national park this summer. The journey itself will be a great experience with amazing views of the national park, and there will be lots to do when people arrive.”

Richard Watts, Chair of Community Rail Lancashire, said: “This is an exciting development which Community Rail Lancashire will enthusiastically support.

"We are developing, with our partners the Lancashire Rail Ramblers and the Friends of the Settle Carlisle, a comprehensive guided walk programme helping people to enjoy the lovely Dales countryside with an experienced leader. The walks will also include history trails highlighting the fascinating stories in the communities along the line.”