The fire was caused by a group of youths who hurled a log into the path of an oncoming train travelling from Blackpool North to Hazel Grove just before 6.30pm.
The incident, which happened near Bolton on the Manchester side of Farnworth Tunnel, resulted in a smashed window and caused a brief fire on the service.
Fortunately, no one was hurt and everyone was safely evacuated from the train, which had more than 100 passengers on-board.
But the reckless act of vandalism has caused widespread disruption, with some Manchester-bound services from Preston and Blackpool cancelled today as repair work takes place.
More than 31 trains were delayed as a result of the incident, which is now being investigated by British Transport Police.
Train operator Northern and Network Rail said the incident, which caused thousands of pounds of damage to the railway, could have been ‘devastating’.
Chris Jackson, regional director for Northern, said: “This was totally reckless behaviour by mindless individuals who gave no thought for other people’s safety.
“The consequences of a log hitting a fast-moving train are potentially devastating and I urge anyone with information as to the identities of those responsible to contact British Transport Police.”
As well as damaging the Northern train, the vandals wrecked more than 200 metres of a 25,000 volt overhead electric cable which powers trains, as well as the structures and equipment which hold them up.
Network Rail engineers worked throughout the night to get the wires fixed and trains are now running through the area again.
Phil James, Network Rail’s North West route director, added: “I’m disgusted by this dangerous and reckless act of vandalism. The people responsible put the safety of our passengers and colleagues at risk. They have caused thousands of pounds of damage to the railway infrastructure and significantly disrupted services travelling between Manchester and Lancashire.
“We are working closely with the British Transport Police to catch the culprits. I’d urge anyone with any information to contact them and make a report.”
You can contact British Transport Police by texting 61016 or by calling 0800 40 50 40.
Alternatively, people can call Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.
Knock-on delays are expected throughout the day and passengers travelling from Blackpool and Preston to Manchester are urged to check www.nationalrail.co.uk for the latest travel information.