RAIL bosses today left commuters and heritage campaigners steaming by refusing to return two Victorian clocks to the platforms at Blackburn station.

The ornate timepieces, which had clocked arrivals and departures since the station opened on September 12, 1886, were removed three years ago for restoration as demolition men started work on a £6million revamp.

When the planning application for the massive refurbishment was passed late in 1998 it said that the clocks should be carefully removed and salvaged for reuse at the station -- or offered for sale to a rail preservation society.

Blackburn with Darwen Council, rail users and the local Civic Society all believed at least one clock would be returned after the renovation, which has just been completed.

But today a spokesman for Railtrack North West said: "The clocks aren't going back.

"They're being kept in storage until we can find a suitable heritage site for them as an alternative."

There are now no working clocks at the station apart from one in the ticket office for the staff. The clock on the outside of the building facing on to the Boulevard has not worked for a year.

Blackburn MP Jack Straw, who symbolically unscrewed one of the clocks when they were removed back in 1999, was away on Foreign Office business today, but as he landed at Tel Aviv airport, he said he remembered helping take the clocks down and added: "I am disappointed. I will take the issue up with Railtrack."

Blackburn Council's acting director of regeneration Steve Hoyle said today: "We believed the spirit of the planning application back in 1998 was that it was Railtrack's intention to put one of the clocks back.

"They're at the station in mothballs at the moment.

"We hoped that one clock would be reinstated in the refurbished station frontage. I would certainly be disappointed if that didn't happen. It's a shame.

"It would be difficult to enforce it -- all we can do is apply moral pressure."

And the chairman of Blackburn Civic Society Doug Chadwick said: "I think it is very sad. The redesign of Blackburn railway station is a terrific asset to the town but it is important to maintain some of the history to show where we have come from."

Former Mayor of Blackburn, Florence Oldfield, who also helped take the clocks down, said she would make inquiries into why they were not to be replaced.

The Railtrack spokesman added it would not be practical to reinstate the clocks at a modern station but would not go into detail. But he said they could suffer weather damage on the new frontage. They had previously been undercover on the old platforms.

Station user Keith Whittaker, of Ramsgreave Drive, Blackburn, said: "Have Railtrack and the train companies decided it's not a good idea to give passengers such a prominent reminder of how late their trains are running?"

The clocks were a link with the old Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, which built the station, he added. "They were a symbol of a major change in the British way of life. They had worked for a century through two world wars."

Curator of collectables at the National Railway Museum in York David Wright said the clocks were probably worth at least £1,000 each and could be worth up to £2,500.

He added: "It does seem a shame but understandable if old clocks look out of place. Unfortunately there is nothing we can do to stop Railtrack selling them if they wish."

Antique clocks expert Peter Miller, who owns the famous Clock Shop in Hebden Bridge, agreed that in some circumstances the clocks could fetch almost £1,000 each at auction.

Meanwhile, Railtrack says it intends legally to hand over the day-to-day running of the station to First North Western on the weekend of March 9-10 -- more than a year late. No official hand-over ceremony had ever been planned, the spokesman said.

Rail user groups recently branded the redevelopment a farce as the scheme ran more than a year behind schedule.

All the construction work is complete but red-tape delays prevented the ticket office, information screens and lift being made available to the public

The old ticket office in the foyer needed a certificate from the Strategic Rail Authority before the new one on the platforms could open, while Railtrack needed to exchange legal documents with the manufacturers to open the lift.

New features include a dome roof, tiling of the subway to platforms and artwork on platform four.