FASTER trains could be running between Burnley and Manchester as soon as December 2013 after engineers gave their seal of approval to the project.

Network Rail has completed a detailed assessment into whether the vital Todmorden Curve link could be reinstated.

Its engineers say the project, which would cost between £7.5million and £8million, is feasible, despite complications over the exact route.

This means the only obstacle now is finding the cash.

Keith Lumley, of Network Rail, said: “It is good news. We are saying it can be done.

"From an engineering and railway point of view there is nothing to stop it being done.”

The company’s verdict is a major step forward for the project, which council bosses have made their top rail priority in Lancashire.

The 500-metre stretch of track known as the Todmorden Curve, which has not been used since the 1960s, connects the Burnley to Manchester lines.

Journey times would be cut to 40 minutes.

Commuters currently have to change at Hebden Bridge, Blackburn or Preston, or use the Witch Way bus service, all of which take over an hour.

A single line has been recommended, although it cannot follow the original path because the curve would be too sharp.

Mr Lumley said the engineers had ‘tinkered’ with the route and put forward an alternative.

The project has now completed the first three of eight stages, and the onus on Burnley and Lancashire council chiefs is now to bid for money and submit a final business case to the government.

If cash can be found by early next year, a detailed engineering stage will begin.

The link could then be built, handed back to the rail industry, and begin operating by the end of 2013.

Lancashire County Council’s transport chief, Tim Ashton, said: “Out of seven schemes related to rail in Lancashire, this is our top one.

"I am fully supportive of it.”