Outdated and uncomfortable “Pacer” trains are to be axed from rail services in the North and replaced by 120 brand new vehicles, the Government has announced.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
A Teesside MP has warned that the Government’s Transport Ministry may look to replace Northern Rail’s Pacer trains with equally ageing former London Underground trains.
Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop, has joined in calls for improvements on routes served by the trains, which go no faster than 60mph on Northern and Trans-Pennine Express routes.
Easington MP Grahame Morris has called for a firm commitment from the Government on replacing the “outdated, uncomfortable and cramped” trains after Chancellor George Osborne said the re-franchising of the East Coast mainline next year would include “a substantial package of upgrades including new services and modern trains”.
Now Mr Blenkinsop, who uses the trains which operate from Middlesbrough and Darlington to Nunthorpe and Saltburn, said:
“The influential railway industry source, the Rail Business Intelligence Bulletin has become aware of a proposal to convert London Underground District Line D78 units – that were already 30-years-old and being decommissioned by London Underground – into diesel engine carriage sets for use on North of England commuter lines like the ones in my constituency.”
Mr Blenkinsop said the only winner if a deal was brokered would be London Mayor Boris Johnson “who will get a Christmas present of some cash for trains he was going to scrap anyway”.
“This worries me as a local rail service user, we don’t want to see veteran trains replaced by equally ageing old London Underground trains which will be nothing more than vintage carriages with a diesel engine bolted on to them.
“I have a simple message to coalition transport ministers – just get rid of the Pacers.
“They are an embarrassment to our rail system and the regular commuters who have to be sardined in them on a daily basis.
“Give people on Teesside the longer trains and comfortable carriages enjoyed in the south. Only then will you see passenger numbers really increase on local routes instead of today’s steady decay.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 16 Dec 2014
The Government’s treatment of North rail passengers is “nothing short of scandalous”, it is claimed today, amid fears that outdated Pacer trains won’t be replaced.
Easington’s Grahame Morris is calling for a firm commitment on replacing the “outdated, uncomfortable and cramped” trains, which go no faster than 60mph on Northern and Trans-Pennine Express routes.
The line is set to be re-franchised in 2015 and George Osborne said the new deal would include “a substantial package of upgrades including new services and modern trains”.
But Mr Morris said doubt hangs over the claims and the Chancellor could be backtracking.
He said Government documents show bidders are simply being ‘encouraged’ to replace the Pacers and, when quizzed in Parliament this week, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin offered the North no cast iron guarantees. Now, the County Durham MP is calling for swift action.
“Like thousands of my constituents I travel on these outdated, uncomfortable and cramped trains every week,” Mr Morris said.
“On top of all the other things hitting North East commuters we now have the prospect of continuing to use these totally inappropriate trains for the foreseeable future. I am writing to the government to point out that North East passengers are suffering enough without this new threat. I shall be seeking guarantees from the government about this.”
It had long been assumed Pacers, originally a stop-gap solution, as they are outmoded and expensive to repair.
The MP added:
“The North has a tiny fraction of money spent on it on infrastructure, compared to London and the South and the amount spent in the North-East is even less. All we want is fairness, North-East travellers deserve their fair share.”
He also said rising fares and the Coalition’s move to re-privatise the East Coast Main Line are unacceptable and the region is not getting the deal it deserves.
He said re-franchising services would spell job losses and companies like Stagecoach and Virgin – who as InterCity Railways won the East Coast Main Line franchise would be “laughing all the way to the bank”.
East Coast, under public ownership, had moved into profit and had high approval ratings from customers.
“The way rail passengers in the North-East are treated is nothing short of scandalous,” said Mr Morris.
“In the last 20 years we have seen a fragmented, privatised rail network fail passengers, with high fares and poor service, all in the name of the free market. It is clear we need, as happens in most other countries, a publicly owned and managed rail service aimed at providing a safe, affordable and efficient service for passengers.
“The decision by this government to force the East Coast mainline back into private hands, despite the public company running it consistently achieving top marks on all measures, including passenger satisfaction and value for the taxpayer, only goes to show it’s all about political ideology, not what’s right for the public and taxpayer. Of course the private train companies are laughing all the way to the bank.”
Source – Sunday Sun, 14 Dec 2014
But his key statement on the nation’s finances also confirmed that local councils face years of further deep cuts.
And the Chancellor’s big surprise, changes to Stamp Duty leading to lower bills for many buyers, will have limited impact on the North East because low property prices in the region mean many home buyers don’t pay the duty anyway.
The Autumn Statement also confirmed that outdated Pacer trains still in use on some routes in the North East will be replaced.
Mr Osborne told the Commons that his goal was to create “a more balanced national economy” and that meant creating a northern powerhouse “as a complement to the strength of our capital city, where we bring together our great cities of the North.”
He announced £20m for a Ageing Science centre in Newcastle, to “back the brilliant work on ageing being conducted at Newcastle University”.
There was also £28m for a world-class research and development centre, to be called the National Formulation Centre, that will specialise in the development of products such as medicines and chemicals, based in Sedgefield.
And documents published by the Treasury also revealed plans for a Great Exhibition in the north.
But local authorities face at least five more years of further dramatic cuts in spending, the Autumn Statement confirmed. Funding from the Treasury for local services is to be cut by more than a fifth by 2019-20.
The figures are included in forecasts published by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the official Treasury watchdog, as part of the statement. It predicted that the main grant provided to local councils will fall from £60.3bn in 2014-15 to £50.5bn in 2019-20.
Mr Osborne insisted: “I do not hide from the House that in the coming years there are going to have to be very substantial savings in public spending.”
This would mean cuts of £13.6bn in 2015-16, as previously announced, and “two further years where decisions on this scale will be required”.
He added: “We’re going to have to go on controlling spending after those years if we want to have a surplus and keep it.”
Another key announcement was a change to stamp duty, previously charged on homes costing more than £125,000.
Buyers eligible for the tax paid one per cent or more of the purchase price. In future, stamp duty will only be paid on the portion of the price which is above the threshold, leading to significant reductions for some properties.
However, an analysis of house prices shows that average prices in the North East are below the £125,000 threshold anyway, which means many buyers will not be affected as they pay no stamp duty.
Average house prices are £120,545 in Newcastle, £124,338 in North Tyneside, £123,766 in Northumberland, £99,837 in South Tyneside and £85,438 in Sunderland.
Nonetheless, buyers of more expensive homes will make savings as long as the property is worth less than £937,000.
Responding to questions from Conservative MP Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, and Labour Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson, the Chancellor also said there would be help for airports in the North if they were hit by a potential cut in air passenger duty in Scotland, following the announcement that aviation duty will be devolved to the Scottish government.
Responding to the statement, Newcastle East MP Nick Brown pointed out that the Chancellor had announced Britain was awarded the lead role in the next international effort to explore the planet of Mars, adding:
“The Chancellor spoke more about Mars than he did about the North East of England. His Northern Powerhouse is located over 100 miles to the South of Tyne and Wear.
“His statement contained no commitment to any type of workable regional policy in the context of further Scottish Devolution. This is grotesquely one-sided. Even his stamp duty changes were focussed on London and the South East.”
But Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith, who represents Berwick, said:
“The Autumn Statement sticks to our strategy to deal with the deficit, enabling us to release funds for key Liberal Democrat priorities that bring fairness and a stronger economy.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 03 Dec 2014
Campaigners have pointed out that rail tickets near the Prime Minister’s own constituency are cheaper that those in the North-East.
Teesside passenger group Coastliners spoke out after David Cameron said the region’s decrepit Pacer trains would be replaced – but fares would have to rise to pay for the new rolling stock.
It was revealed on Friday that the Prime Minister had declared that “those trains are going” when asked about the unpopular Pacers, which run on Northern Rail lines across the North of England.
Mr Cameron rejected his own Government’s suggestion that the 30-year-old carriages could be modernised rather than replaced.
Instead, bidders for the Northern franchise will be asked to draw up plans to replace the trains.
But the Prime Minister said fares must rise to pay for the upgrades when the new contracts start in 2016.
However, research by Coastliners, which represents rail passengers on the Durham coast, suggests it is a myth that North-East fares are cheaper than those elsewhere in the country.
Coastliners’ Peter Walker said:
“Don’t forget that Campaign for Better Transport‘s London-based staff have admitted that we in the North pay as much as if not more than those living further South.”
“Oxford to Tackley, nearly in Mr Cameron’s constituency, is nine miles, and the day return is £3.50, or £3.40 single.
“If the fares level decides what type of rolling stock is provided, his argument implies that Pacers should serve Tackley and Class 166 diesels should be sent to our coast line forthwith.”
Mr Walker pointed out savings to users of the Oyster card meant that many London journeys of similar length similar to, or greater than, those on the coast line were far cheaper :
“London to East Croydon, some 13 miles, works out at £3 single for an Oyster-card holder.”
Mr Walker also questioned the Prime Minister’s claim that Northern Rail fares were the most heavily subsidised in the country.
Source – Northern Echo, 07 Nov 2014
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
The shortlist of train firms bidding to run the region’s rail services have been announced by the Government – with unions immediately descriving the operators as the “same old greedy companies”.
Three companies have been shortlisted to run the Northern franchise, while three companies are being considered for the TransPennine Express franchise.
All the operators companies have successfully passed the pre-qualification stage, and will now be asked to develop their plans for the franchises before they receive the Government’s Invitation to Tender in December.
Officials say that bidders will be expected to show how they will make the most of the government’s £1billion investment programme for the rail network in the north of England, which aims to provide faster and more reliable journeys, more capacity, better trains and improved connections for passengers across the region.
The shortlisted bidders to run the two franchises are:
• Abellio Northern Ltd
• Arriva Rail North Limited
• Govia Northern Limited
• First Trans Pennine Express Limited
• Keolis Go-Ahead Limited
Rail Minister Claire Perry said: “The north is undergoing a real rail renaissance, and we will be asking these companies to come up with innovative and ambitious proposals that will ensure a truly world-class rail network for the region.
“Building a railway that is fit for the 21st century is a vital part of our long term economic plan, connecting businesses and communities, generating jobs and boosting growth, and we need strong private sector partners to help us achieve this ambition.”
The new operator will also be expected to work closely with Rail North, which represents the region’s local authorities, to ensure local rail users will have more influence in how their train services are run.
Sir Richard Leese, for Rail North, said: “The companies on the shortlists demonstrate the interest there is in meeting Rail North’s desire to see the railway acting as an economic driver in the north of England.
“We look forward to working with the bidders to deliver strong franchises for passengers, which reflect the aims and objectives of our Long Term Rail Strategy and the predicted growth in patronage.”
The franchise is expected to run for a period of around 7 to 9 years, with the provision for an extension of one year at the discretion of the DfT.
An announcement about the successful bidder is expected in autumn 2015, with the contract expected to start in February 2016.
One of the shortlisted companies, Stagecoach, said the TPE rail franchise was a key part of the North of England’s infrastructure, supporting economic growth and connecting communities – and the company was delighted to have been shortlisted by the Department for Transport.
A spokesmand added: “Stagecoach has played a leading role in transforming rail travel in Britain over the past two decades, bringing new ideas and putting customers at the heart of the railway.
“We look forward to engaging with local people and other stakeholders to develop a package of ambitious and robust proposals that will improve services and deliver better value for money to passengers and taxpayers.”
Mick Cash, RMT Acting General Secretary, criticised the Government for releasing ths hortliost just horus after a consultation process into the future of the services closed.
Mr Cash added that the shortlist contained “the same old greedy companies looking to hitch yet another ride on the rail privatisation gravy train purely in the interests of private profit”.
He said: “It makes a mockery of the consultation that this list of the greedy and the incompetent has been drawn up by the Government before the consultation responses have even been opened and before these companies even know what it is that they are bidding for.
“RMT said from the off that the consultation was wholly bogus, this morning’s outrageous manoeuvring has proved that conclusively and RMT will use every tool at our disposal to expose this racket for what it is.”
Both franchises are due to be awarded by October 2015 and as they develop their bids each of the bidders will need to set out how they will capitalise on the biggest programme of rail modernisation ever.
The Government says that than £1billion will be spent on the rail network in the north over the next five years.
The potential operators will need to demonstrate how they will use these projects to increase capacity in order to tackle crowding and meet future passenger demand; provide faster and more frequent services; and upgrade rolling stock, including proposals to replace Pacer trains on the Northern franchise. Bidders will also need to improve customer service and passenger satisfaction.
The Northern and TransPennine Express franchises carried more than 110 million passengers last year, covering inter-urban, commuter and rural routes. The franchises connect passengers travelling into and between the key strategic cities of Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle, and onwards to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
A public consultation into the future of rail services in the north closed on Monday and responses will be taken into account as the franchise proposals are developed further ahead of the Invitations to Tender in December.
Source – Northern Echo, 19 Aug 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