Outdated and uncomfortable “Pacer” trains are to be axed from rail services in the North and replaced by 120 brand new vehicles, the Government has announced.
The decision to scrap the trains, which have been compared to cattle trucks, was made by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin as he launched the contest inviting rail operators to bid to run the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises.
It brings to an end speculation that the vehicles could stay, or could be replaced by second hand trains from another part of the country.
But it also emerged that Mr McLoughlin faced a battle with civil servants – who argued that the £250 million cost of the new vehicles was poor value for money.
The Transport Secretary was forced to issue a “written directive”, a formal note confirming that he had been advised against requiring new trains but wanted his officials to go ahead anyway.
Mr McLoughlin told his staff that scrapping the Pacers was essential, warning: “I do not think that the continued use of these uncomfortable and low quality vehicles is compatible with our vision for economic growth and prosperity in the North.”
He also said that many Northern lines were unlikely to be electrified, so it was important to ensure new diesel trains were built because there is an industry-wide shortage of diesel vehicles.
It means the decision will now be scrutinised by a Commons spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee, but while this could potentially criticise Mr McLoughlin it does not have the power to over-rule him.
Pacers were introduced in the 1980s as a short-term solution to a lack of rolling stock. Their future had been unclear until now, with senior Ministers including the Prime Minister promising they would go, while a series of official Government documents stated they could instead be refurbished and remain in use.
The Northern franchise operates local, commuter and rural services throughout the region, and a number of long distance services linking major cities.
As well as replacing the pacers with new trains, the winner of the franchise will be expected to modernise other vehicles on the route, double the number of services on may routes, provide more off-peak and Sunday services, invest at least £30 million to improve stations and introduce free Wi-Fi on all Northern trains by 2020 at the latest.
Bidders for the franchise are Abellio Northern Ltd, Arriva Rail North Limited and Govia Northern Limited. They have until 26 June to submit their plans.
The TransPeninne Express franchise provides longer distance intercity-type services, connecting the major cities of Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Hull, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as Manchester Airport.
Improvements the government wants the bidders to introduce include introducing extra capacity for passengers through more carriages and more services; providing earlier and later services and more services on Sundays; considering options for new services such as extending Newcastle services to Edinburgh, and introducing free Wi-Fi on all TransPennine Express trains by 2020 at the latest.
The bidders are First Trans Pennine Express Limited, Keolis Go-Ahead Limited and Stagecoach Trans Pennine Express Trains Limited, and they must submit their proposals by 28 May 2015.
Both new franchises are due to start operating in April 2016.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 27 Feb 2015
Labour has refused to rule out higher rail fares or keeping decrepit trains, in a bleak message for the North’s passengers.
Mary Creagh, the party’s transport spokeswoman, said the Government’s controversial plans for the new Northern Rail franchise may be impossible to reverse – even if it wins the general election.
Ministers claim local fares are higher in the South and have put forward proposals to wipe out those differences by hiking ticket prices on cheaper Northern routes.
Asked if Labour opposed that move, Ms Creagh said:
“That’s not a fair question without civil service advice – that’s what ministers are doing on the basis of advice.”
She added that halting that process was “not impossible”, particularly if Labour plans to devolve decision-making to local transport authorities went ahead.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has also sparked anger by planning to “modernise” the 30-year-old ‘Pacer’ trains – condemned as “cattle trucks” – despite an earlier vow to replace them.
But Ms Creagh said it would take around seven years to bring in different trains – which must be ‘cascaded’ from other lines, where electrification schemes are in doubt.
“I don’t want to upgrade the Pacers – I’m not sure you can. They’re not disability compliant.
“However, they have the enormous advantage that they exist – unlike better trains for the future that don’t exist yet.”
Ms Creagh was speaking after the launch of the Right Lines campaign, to end decades of underinvestment in rail in the region.
The crucial date looms in December, when specifications for the new franchises – potentially including fare hikes and retaining the Pacers – are published.
The North’s transport leaders have warned that hoped-for improvements will be “locked out for seven to nine years” unless their message is heard by then.
For example, an annual season ticket for the 13.5 mile journey between Darlington and Middlesbrough is £928 – but Bath to Bristol, a similar distance, costs £1,504.
But Northern transport bosses say the difference is justified because of lower incomes in the region, as well as by the older trains passengers must use.
Ms Creagh insisted Labour had a strong plan for the railways, which would end the damaging fragmentation of the privatised system.
It will create a rail authority – a “single guiding mind to plan investment and services” – bringing Network Rail together with passenger organisations.
The new body would contract routes, coordinate services and oversee stations, fares and ticketing, with a state-owned company bidding to run rail lines.
Source – Northern Echo, 17 Oct 2014
Rail services at around 20 of the region’s “little-used” stations are under threat, under new Government plans.
Ministers are proposing cutting the number of trains that serve 67 stops with “particularly low levels of use”, when a new contract is brought in for a private operator.
They include ten in North Yorkshire, four on Teesside, three in Tyne and Wear and a further five in Northumberland.
Some have extraordinarily few passengers, in particular the station at Teesside Airport which – notoriously – had just eight passengers last year, on only two trains each week.
Five other local stations attract fewer than ten passengers a day on average; British Steel Redcar (2.44), Battersby, North Yorkshire (4.31), Kildale, North Yorkshire (4.99), Dunston, Gateshead (5.93), Blaydon (7.59) and Ruswarp, North Yorkshire (8.07).
And the list stretches down as far as stops with nearly 10,000 passengers a year, but still small numbers each day; Marton, Middlesbrough (27.02) and Danby, North Yorkshire (27.13).
The Department for Transport (DfT) has vowed that 30-year-old ‘Pacer’ trains – condemned as “cattle trucks” by critics – will finally be replaced, as part of the new contract.
It asks: “What are your views on giving priority to improving the quality of the Northern rolling stock at the expense of some reduction in lightly used services (e.g. fewer calls at low-use stations)?”
The proposal is included in plans for the new Northern Rail and Trans-Pennine franchises, which are due to be awarded late next year and to start in February 2016.
The operators run services to Darlington, Durham City, Bishop Auckland, Chester-le-Street, Middlesbrough, Stockton, Hartlepool, Redcar, Sunderland, Newton Aycliffe, Redcar, Northallerton, York and Scarborough.
Controversially, the DfT has already warned that rail fares may have to soar to pay for the new trains, regardless of whether some services are culled at less popular stations.
> So business as usual – fewer services costing more… to be followed by big payouts to shareholders .
Commuters in the region pay up to 60 per cent less than in other parts of the country for short journeys, according to officials.
Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, pointed out that James Cook Hospital had just opened a new platform linked to Marton.
And he said: “They’re probably less used because services are few and limited. South Bank hardly has a service that stops there, so it’s a bit cheeky for Northern Rail to highlight stations it hardly services.
> It’s a good point – if there are very few services to start with, the number of users is going to be less. It’d be interesting to see what would happen if services were increased.
Teesside Airport station always attracts headlines for its lack of use… but it only gets two trains per week. What the hell else does anyone expect ?
“Perhaps if it increased services and improved rolling stock, it would improve the frequency of use.”
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin insisted that no decisions have yet been taken on the proposals in the document, arguing it was normal to seek views in a consultation.
Source – Northern Echo, 26 July 2014