Outdated and uncomfortable “Pacer” trains are to be axed from rail services in the North and replaced by 120 brand new vehicles, the Government has announced.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
> If it aint broke… break it.
The East Coast Main Line franchise made a profit of £13 million last year – with the cash returned to the Treasury.
And the financial success of the line is in stark contrast to other (privatised) rail franchises, which required millions in subsidies to keep going.
Labour said the figures exposed the foolishness of privatising the line, which is currently run by a state-owned business but is due to be managed by Virgin Trains from March.
They were published in the annual financial report of the Office of Rail Regulation, the official regulator for Britain’s railways.
The East Coast Main Line was one of only two rail franchises to make a profit for taxpayers. The other was South West Trains.
Virgin Trains, which currently runs the West Coast Main Line from London to Manchester and on to Scotland, received £221 million in subsidies.
And the most expensive franchise was the Northern Rail line, which operates in the North East, North West and Yorkshire, and received £495 million.
A separate study by consumer group Which also found the East Coast Main Line had a good record for train delays, coming sixth out of 21 franchises for the lowest number of delays.
Labour’s Shadow Rail Minister Lilian Greenwood MP said:
“These reports prove that the forthcoming East Coast sell-off is set to be a terrible blunder that puts privatisation ahead of passengers’ and taxpayers’ best interests.”
“East Coast was one of only two train operating companies that made a net contribution to the Treasury once infrastructure costs were taken in to account.”
Labour plans to allow a state-owned operator to bid for future franchises, although this would still potentially allow private operators to run franchises if they win the bidding process.
The policy not supported by some Labour MPs who argue that franchises should simply be transferred to the public sector once they expire.
Rail Minister Claire Perry said:
“We are investing record amounts in our railways as part of our long-term economic plan and passenger fares have a crucial role to play in funding these improvements, which will bring more services, more seats and modern trains.
“As we drive forward this huge investment programme, it is absolutely important that disruption to passengers is kept to a minimum. It is also important that we recognise passengers’ concerns about the cost of rail fares. This is why we have frozen them for the second year in a row.”
The Office of Rail Regulation said rail industry income from passengers in 2013/14 was £8.16 billion – a 10.8% rise compared with the figure for 2010/11 and 6.2% higher than in 2012/13.
Government funding for the railways in 2013/14 was just under £3.8 billion – a 16.4% dip on the total for 2010/11 and 8.1% down on 2012/13.
Total Government funding in 2013/14 varied from £1.88 per passenger journey in England to £7.77 per journey in Scotland and £9.18 per journey in Wales.
Government funding in 2013/14 represented 28.5% of the rail industry’s total income.
The number of passenger journeys increased by 16.6% (or by 260 million journeys) between 2010/11 and 2013/14, with the amount of freight carried rising 18.1%.
ORR chief executive Richard Price said:
“There has been substantial growth in the use of the railways in the past four years. Passengers are increasingly the main funder of the railways, and must be central to developing plans for future services and investment.
“Our report also highlights that the rail industry has been successful in keeping costs stable despite carrying significantly more passengers.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 16 Feb 2015
Easington Labour MP Grahame Morris and transport unions have reacted with fury to reports that the UK’s only Government-run rail line is to be taken over by a consortium largely owned by the French state.
Mr Morris said the decision to re-privatise the East Coast line was “right-wing Tory dogma being put ahead of the best interests of passengers”.
Edinburgh East Labour MP Sheila Gilmour and the RMT and TSSA unions were also highly critical of the expected decision.
The UK Government has been anxious to return the London to Scotland East Coast main line to the private sector ever since it was taken over from National Express by the Department for Transport in 2009.
But now it is likely that this week’s announcement of a new private franchise will see the line, from next year, being run by joint bidders Eurostar and French transport company Keolis which is 70% owned by state-run French rail company SNCF.
Opponents of the move to re-privatise the East Coast line have pointed out that the public-sector run company has made big returns to the Treasury during its tenure.
Mr Morris said:
“This public-run rail franchise has generated over a billion pounds for the Treasury. If this is what a publicly-run train operating franchise can deliver, at a time when every penny counts, we should be looking at ways to bring privately run railways back into public ownership not the other way round.
“This is right wing Tory dogma being put ahead of the best interests of the service, consideration for passengers and the public finances. The public-run East Coast main line franchise has consistently been the best performing franchise when it comes to passenger and staff satisfaction, fares and profitability. “
Ms Gilmore said:
“Passengers recognise the improvements to services that East Coast have made under public ownership over the last few years. They also appreciate that at present, all profits are retained for the benefit of British passengers and taxpayers.
“But despite calls from Labour for these arrangements to continue in the long term, today we hear that East Coast is set to be privatised just before the next general election.”
She went on:
“Ironically if the contract is awarded to Keolis – which is largely owned by the French government – ticket revenue may well be reinvested in improved services. Unfortunately these will be services between places like Paris and Lyon or Marseille and Monaco, rather than Edinburgh and London.
“A future Labour government would allow a public sector operator to bid for rail contracts, so that passengers and taxpayers always get value for money.”
A win for Eurostar/Keolis would mean disappointment for the other two bidders – FirstGroup and a joint venture between Virgin Trains and transport company Stagecoach.
Before National Express pulled out of the franchise, a previous private operator – GNER – also ceased running the East Coast line after its parent company Sea Containers got into financial difficulties.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT transport union said re-privatising the line was “ludicrous” and a “national disgrace”.
“This is pure industrial vandalism and the strong rumour that the French-state operator is in pole position to mop up this vital, strategic north/south route says it all.
“This Government is happy to have state ownership of our railways as long as it isn’t by the British state, in the interests of the British people.”
Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA transport union, said:
“This has got nothing to do with improving services but everything to do with sheer political spite.
“Here we have the best-value franchise, which has returned £1 billion to the taxpayer over the past five years, being sold overseas because it is a public sector success story.
“Rather than allow that to continue, the Tories would rather see it in French hands. They don’t want the voters having the chance to keep it in the public sector by voting Labour in May.”
He went on:
“We are in the absurd position that the country that invented railways, and gave them to the world, is no longer considered by the Tories capable enough to run our own railway firms.
“They prefer French, German and Dutch state railways to run them instead. ‘Anyone but the Brits’ seems to be their vindictive attitude.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Nov 2014
THE decision to prevent the current public-owned railway company from bidding to run the East Coast line has been criticised by a Conservative former Cabinet minister.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean said the point of a competitive process was to allow the best company to win.
His comments came after transport minister Baroness Kramer had defended the decision to prevent Directly Operated Railways – which was set up by the Government in July 2009 to run the East Coast franchise – from bidding to continue its operations.
The franchise is due to revert to the private sector in March next year and Lady Kramer said it was a difficult industry for a public company to operate in.
“It costs something like £7-10mto put in a bid with no assurance of winning. It is certainly a high-risk industry and the margins, even for a successful and profitable company are quite fine.”
“There are a very different set of skills when you are looking at significant new investment, when you are looking at growth. This is the point we have reached with this franchise.”
But Lord Forsyth told her:
“Surely you would recognise that the whole point of competitive tendering is to get the best value and the best deal for the taxpayer and if you are right that a state owned company wouldn’t be able to compete why is that a reason to exclude it from the process?”
“Do you want to set a company, pay its senior management very high fees with the possibility of bids of £7-10 million that it might eventually achieve a franchise?
“I have to suggest the history of companies run over the long term by the UK government has not been one of outstanding success.”
Labour peer Baroness Quin said at question time in the House of Lords:
“Many of us who use the East Coast rail service regularly are dismayed that the Government has refused to allow the current publicly owned operator, which has greatly improved the service both for the benefit of passengers and UK taxpayers alike to even bid for the franchise and continue running a good service.
Labour transport spokesman Lord Davies of Oldham said:
“Only a Government addicted to dogma would dispense with a company, an organisation which has run the line so successfully and put it out to bidders of which a successful one may be a state-owned company of another country’s railway.”
Source – Northern Echo, 28 Oct 2014
Easington MP Grahame Morris has called on Parliament to launch an inquiry into foreign state-owned companies owning UK rail firms.
Mr Morris said British commuters, who suffer the highest rail prices in Europe, are subsidising foreign passengers.
MPs from Parliament’s rail group have called for an urgent inquiry.
It follows a decision to award the Scotrail franchise to Dutch state-owned firm Abellio, and also research showed 20 of the UK’s 27 private rail services are owned by foreign state-owned or backed railways.
Mr Morris said British commuters have experienced substandard services for decades adding:
“Often the very same operators that are using British commuters as cash cows are foreign state-owned companies that then hold down fares and improve services back in their own countries.
“That British commuters are expected to both suffer the failure of rail privatisation as well as subsidise commuters in Holland, Germany and France adds insult to injury.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 18 Oct 2014
A CAMPAIGN against possible cuts in jobs and services on the Tyne Valley railway line gets under way in Hexham on Monday.
As part of protests against about the Government’s proposals for the future of the Northern franchise, the RMT union is launching a new phase of action on the day that Northern axes a range of off-peak fares.
RMT is pointing out to passengers that the fare increases may be a taste of what’s to come under the new Northern franchises. The union has slammed the Government and Northern Rail for secretly colluding to axe the off-peak fares.
A new postcard, following on from the 10,000 cards collected in opposition to the plans under the franchise consultation, will be distributed from Monday with the public urged to press MPs to sign EDM 174, opposing the new franchise proposals, and calling for councillors and local authorities to register their opposition.
Hexham has been chosen for the first phase in the action on Monday morning, between 7am and 9am, as commuters set off to work in Newcastle.
Source – Hexham Courant, 03 Sept 2014
An MP has said the North-East has been “totally ignored once again” in a Government consultation on rail travel.
The Government is consulting on future Northern and TransPennine franchises which start in February 2016.
Plans have already been unveiled for major improvements to Manchester train stations and the possibility of electrification of the railway lines to York or Leeds has been raised.
But Andy McDonald, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, said the North-East and especially the Tees Valley is being “totally ignored.”
In a written response he pointed to an Institute of Institute of Public Policy Research report which showed that for nearly £3,000 spent per person on transport in London and the South-East just £5 is spent in the North-East.
He also said current TransPennine trains were “third rate,” any investment in the North-East was confined to the Tyne and Wear Metro and the current franchise plans were likely to lead to ticket office closures and price hikes for customers. Stopping electrification at York or Leeds would also reduce the region to being left with mere “shuttle services to the 21st Century.”
He continued: “I went to one presentation about rail with the secretary of Transport about this and all I could see on the screen was an arrow pointing North-East. That was our only mention. I went beserk. There’s nothing for us, despite the fact that we’re the only region outside London actually with a positive contribution to GDP. It’s like the North doesn’t exist at all outside the M62 corridor.”
Mr McDonald said he had sympathy with The Hannah Mitchell Foundation which campaigns for the North to have a regional Government. The Foundation has appealed directly to the Labour Party to promise to make changes if elected to the franchise to include new trains which it says should be made in the north.
Companies will be chosen to run the new rail franchises in the coming year.
Source – Northern Echo, 18 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
Rail campaigners have called on the Government to give Northern train services a once in a decade chance of investment.
Transport groups have said it is time services such as Northern Rail benefited from the same approach which has handed cash to rail in London and the south east in recent decades.
The Campaign for Better Transport has warned that a Government consultation on the future of Northern Rail and Trans Pennine Express looks set to do little to improve east-west links to and from the North East.
They say the plans as they stand give “only a vague indications of when the outdated 30-year old train diesel Pacer train will finally be replaced,” raising the possibility rail operators will not be forced to make much needed improvements.
In its consultation document on the new franchise the Government makes clear that it will accept limited rolling stick improvements if the cost would mean money diverted from other services.
The Department for Transport document says: “We firmly believe the rolling stock on Northern services needs to be improved so that passengers recognise a step change. But the more expensive the trains (and brand-new trains are likely to be the most expensive option of all), the harder it will be to justify current service levels where demand is low, and to afford to improve services where demand is increasing.”
The Department for Transport also makes clear that new operators would be allowed to cut back on off peak services, including reducing the number of trains calling at less popular stations.
There is some good news for Northumberland, with the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line looking set for a return thanks to Northumberland County Council cash.
But while Ashington-Blyth and Tyne is mentioned, schemes like the Leamside reopening though the south of the region are not and potential operators wouldn’t need to consider them in their bids.
Also causing concern is a clear expectation that the northern services will not attract significant investment.
Campaigners say that the consultation is missing an sign that a new operator will be forced to invest in trains, track and stations. “This is a counterpoint to the investment-heavy approach to growing the railways used in the South East,” the campaign group said.
Stephen Joseph, chief executive at the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “The North East’s railways are at a junction. The Government is talking about trade-offs with the winners potentially getting newer trains and better stations while the losers could end up with higher fares and reduced services. Getting real investment into rail is essential to the region’s economy and we’ll be working with others to campaign for railways in the north to get the kind of support other parts of the country have seen.”
The Government consultation runs until August 18.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 23 June 2014
High speed rail will slow down services from the North East to Scotland and reduce London journeys by just 11 minutes, the region is today warned.
A series of route documents have shown how the North will be increasingly isolated if the £42bn railway project is completed.
After a trickle of concerns at the plans for a new railway emerged over the last year, the final picture increasingly shows a high speed network in which Newcastle actually loses services.
Consultation documents put out by HS2 and Network Rail show:
- From 2033, Newcastle’s direct trains to and from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow are replaced by a stopping service calling at small towns throughout the line, hugely adding to journey times;
- All London to Scotland services will go up the West Coast;
- High speed rail will replace, not add, to all existing East Coast London to Newcastle routes in order to free up capacity south of York;
- Under High speed plans, Durham would lose out on direct links, while Darlington moves from two trains an hour to London to one train;
- Total journey saving times to London when Durham’s Hitachi trains are built are just 11 minutes.
Under Government plans, the high speed railway will go from London to Birmingham, heading in a Y-shape to Leeds and Manchester by 2033. The fast trains then switch down to regular speeds and travel either to Newcastle or up the west coast to Scotland, with Newcastle now becoming simply the end of a branch line.
Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who sits on the House of Commons group overseeing the London to Birmingham high speed work, said he had warned his own party’s front bench team that something will have to change if the North East is not to lose out.
He told The Journal: “We have some of the worst rail connections already. As I have said to our front bench, the North East first of all needs to be recompensed for the disruption we will face as work goes on from York to London.
“But also, this new line will build economic powerhouses in West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, while whatever happens in Scotland it is going to be given more economic powers.
“The North East risks being trapped in between these economic honeytraps, with slower connections to Scotland and losing some services to London. How will we sell ourselves to investors after High Speed 2?”
Other Labour MPs hitting out at the high speed plans include Durham’s Kevan Jones and Newcastle’s Nick Brown. They are at odds with Labour councils such as Newcastle and the Association of North East Councils, which have campaigned for new route despite the concerns.
Many of the damaging changes to North East services come as a result of a lack of investment in the East Coast Main Line north of York.
The four-lane line railway network changes to a two-lane line between Northallerton up to Newcastle. And with that system already leading to congestion on a one-in one-out basis, the new high speed route would only be able to replace, rather than add to, existing services.
In its consultation document, Network Rail admits that High Speed duplicates services up the East Coast, and as such, it wants to “reduce the quantum of long distance services,” axing long distance trains and replace them with slower, stopping services.
South of York there is increased extra capacity as all trains from Newcastle and Scotland are sent past Birmingham to Euston, with six trains an hour from the North moved off the existing system.
The system would mean there is an end to services from London to Edinburgh via Newcastle, documents show.
Instead a new stopping services would start at Newcastle and call at Cramlington, Morpeth, Alnmouth, Berwick, Dunbar, Drem, Prestonpans and Edinburgh Waverley.
And the same capacity constraints that force all these changes mean that from 2019, transport officials have decided the only way to increase services on the Transpennine service is to reduce one train an hour on the Birmingham via Leeds Cross Country routes.
Source – Newcastle Journal 06 May 2014