More delays for Burnley-Manchester train link

The Todmorden Curve rail link
The Todmorden Curve rail link

Further delays have hit the long-awaited reinstatement of the Todmorden Curve.

The track, which will see train times from Burnley to Manchester slashed to 45 minutes, was set to open later this year.

However, signalling work will now not be finished until February meaning trains will not be appearing on the line until May at the earliest.

Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle has slammed Network Rail and Northern Rail, accusing both companies of complete and utter incompetence.

“I’m 71 years old and I’ve never heard of anything like this,” he said. “I’d sack the lot of them. You just can’t believe that a) Network Rail can’t get the signalling right in the first place and b) which is even more ludicrous, Northern Rail won’t allow them access to the track until February, even though it will only take a weekend to sort. And then, which is even more outrageous, Network Rail have said it will take until May to give the drivers route-learning. It’s a short piece of track, how long can it take to learn?”

Work to reinstate the 400-yard length of track was completed in May but regular rail services were not scheduled until at least December because of a lack of trains.

This setback is the latest in a long line of delays estimated to be now costing the borough £1m. a month.

Burnley Council leader Mark Townsend said it was now getting beyond a joke.

“It’s just complete incompetence on both Network Rail and Northern Rail’s parts. I have written to the transport and rails ministers and I will be writing to the heads of both Network Rail and Northern Rail asking them to get a grip. I’m not even convinced it will be ready by this new deadline of May 2015.

“There seems to be a complete lack of urgency and meanwhile, it is costing the local economy £1m. a month. Even a 10 year old knows that what you need are tracks, trains, signals and drivers. They have given us one out of four so far. It’s basic project management.”

A spokesman for Network Rail said: “The new track for the Todmorden Curve was built earlier this year and part of the signalling required to safely operate trains on the line has been installed allowing services to run in one direction. To complete the final signalling stage, and allow trains to run in both directions, we need to close the line for a short period of time which will mean disrupting services and passengers. We have been working with Northern Rail to agree a time to do this which meets the requirements of both organisations. It is proposed that the signalling work is completed by February 2015 with the line open fully in time for the timetable change in May.”

A Northern Rail spokesperson said: “We have been working closely with Lancashire County Council and other partners to introduce a new service from Manchester to Blackburn via the Todmorden Curve as soon as practically possible.

“To enable that to happen there is some work to complete on the signalling, once this has been done, we will be able to start driver route-learning. The diesel train needed to operate the service will become available when electric trains start to replace diesels elsewhere in the North-West towards the end of this year.

“The best interests of our customers who use this line of route is at the forefront of this decision. Rather than disrupting journeys in the run up to Christmas, we took the decision, along with Network Rail and contractors, to deliver the work after Christmas, when the risk of major disruption is less.”