England

New northern rail franchises 'must scrap Pacer trains'

Pacer train
Image caption The Pacer trains were introduced in the 1980s and were supposed to be a short-term solution

The government has confirmed it wants to scrap the 30-year-old Pacer trains on railways in northern England.

Companies bidding for the government's new rail franchises in the North will be required to replace them by 2020, the Department For Transport said.

Northern and TransPennine bidders will have to add 200 new train services daily and accommodate 19,000 extra Manchester commuters.

Built in the 1980s, Pacers were intended for short-term use.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "Pacers have had their day, they are not suitable for modern commuting.

"There was a bit of pressure on us not to push this forward because people were arguing the financing did not match up, we have decided we are going ahead."

Pacer trains

  • 102 trains are operated by Northern Rail

  • 50 were first ordered in 1984

  • 48 people can be seated with standing room for 19

  • 75mph is their top speed

But Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT transport union, said: "Any new trains are light years away with passengers forced to endure the misery of the clapped-out Pacers, and the ancient London Underground rolling stock that's heading north, way off into the future.

"The tender documents allow bidders to axe guards and move to driver-only operation, compromising safety in the interests of private profit."

Shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher added: "If we had a new piece of rolling stock for every time ministers 'announced' the end of the Pacer trains, the network would be full of shiny new carriages."

The Pacer trains would contravene disability discrimination legislation from 2020.

The transport select committee is meeting next month to take evidence from Mr McLoughlin to examine the specification for the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises and question him on the future of Pacer trains currently in use in Wales and the south-west.

The chairman of the committee, Liverpool Riverside MP Louise Ellman, said: "It is unacceptable that Pacer trains - built in the mid-1980s and of questionable safety - are still in use on busy rail lines."


Analysis

Judy Hobson, Environment Correspondent, BBC North West Tonight

Boneshakers, cattle trucks, bus bodies... call them what you like, no-one likes pacers.

They're outdated, cramped and uncomfortable - they screech when they go round corners and when they pull into stations.

They were built in the 1980s as a stop-gap due to a lack of rolling stock - but a lack of investment in the northern rail network has kept them in service.

Commuters at Manchester's Victoria Station said they were delighted to hear the pacers' days are numbered.

One woman said the carriages shake so much she'd given up trying to read books, while a man said he didn't feel safe on them when they were crowded.

There are no details yet on what will replace them and it won't happen overnight, but passengers clearly can't wait to see the back of them.


Resembling the body of a bus with train wheels bolted on, Pacers are still being used on the railways across the north of England even though they were supposed to be a temporary solution to a rolling stock shortage.

It was thought the trains would have a 20-year lifespan but they currently run on routes in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Teesside, Northumberland and Cumbria.

Prime Minister David Cameron signalled in November that the Government was considering scrapping Pacers.

The Northern franchise operates local, commuter and rural services and long-distance services linking major cities and towns such as Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, York, Manchester, Bradford, Preston and Blackpool.

Image caption One company is offering converted London Underground trains to the franchise bidders

The TransPeninne Express (TPE) franchise provides longer-distance intercity-type services, connecting Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Hull, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as Manchester Airport.

Companies shortlisted to run the new franchises were announced in August. Competing for Northern are Arriva, Govia and Abellio, while on the shortlist for TPE are FirstGroup, Keolis/Go Ahead and Stagecoach.

Firm Vivarail is in talks with some of the operators competing for the franchises, offering them the use of converted London Underground trains.

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