Campaigners have welcomed an announcement that rail bosses hope to complete the long-awaited upgrades to the line between Preston and Blackpool in 2018.
Fears had been growing that plans to electrify the route would be further delayed by a series of setbacks but a senior Network Rail figure has given the firmest indication yet of the timetable for the work.
In an email, seen by The Gazette, regional managing director Martin Frobisher said discussions are ongoing to ensure disruption caused by the work is kept to a minimum.
He said the scheme is an “essential” part of the Government’s Northern Powerhouse project, adding: “We recognise that it’s important to protect Blackpool summer holiday traffic and detailed plans are being developed to make sure that this is achieved.
“It is likely that final commissioning will take place prior to the summer holiday traffic, summer 2018.”
The start date for the project had previously been pushed back from 2016 to 2017 but fresh doubt was cast on the project when contractor Balfour Beatty pulled out over the summer.
At the time, Network Rail said it remains committed to electrifying the route, a statement repeated by Mr Frobisher in his email. It has since emerged Carillion is in talks to take over from Balfour Beatty.
Rail campaigner Stephen Brookes said: “I am pleased we have now got a confirmed date from Network Rail, which means people in Blackpool can start looking ahead and working out business plans.”
Blackpool North MP Paul Maynard said: “It is welcome news but clearly there are a number of important issues still to be decided over how the work is carried out in Blackpool.”