PASSENGERS won't start direct train journeys from Burnley to Manchester along the Todmorden Curve until after May 2014, it has been announced.

Major work is set to be carried out on a railway tunnel before Manchester-bound trains are allowed through.

Progress is being made on the reinstatement of the Todmorden Curve, which will slash journey times to the city from East Lancashire.

And the long-awaited project, which will also benefit commuters from Accrington onwards, is still on course to be finished by December 2013.

Before the service is launched the following May though, engineers are looking to strengthen Holme Tunnel in Cliviger, on the Copy Pit Line running from Burnley to Todmorden.

Keith Lumley, of Network Rail, said: “This is to correct distortions in the tunnel that are being caused by movement in the hillside above.

“The movement is very slight and quite normal but it does mean that the rail tunnel is no longer perfectly cylindrical so we will have to do some re-profiling work to get it back into shape again.”

Final dates and costings for the work have not yet been set but it is envisaged it will be completed by early 2014.

Mr Lumley added: “It makes sense to delay the introduction of the new train services until the tunnel work is complete.”Further meetings are planned on the tunnel work in September and more details will then be released.

No decision has yet been taken regarding the Burnley to Manchester service route, with Northern Rail’s franchise expiring in April 2013.