Leeds MP Alex Sobel calls for Northern rail franchise to be nationalised after delay in scrapping Pacers

Alex Sobel MP gives Northern Pacer trains the thumbs down.
Alex Sobel MP gives Northern Pacer trains the thumbs down.
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A Leeds MP has called for Northern to be stripped of its rail franchise after the company delayed scrapping trains made in the 1980s.

Pacer trains were due to be taken off the network by the end of the year, but reports surfaced earlier this week that the firm has been in discussions with the Department for Transport (DfT) over extending the trains’ use for another 12 months after technical issues during the manufacturing of their replacements.

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Alex Sobel, Labour MP for Leeds North West, has today called for the removal of the franchise from Northern - whose trains are used widely across Yorkshire - and for it to be nationalised.

It comes after Mr Sobel said that promises were made to him that the trains would be removed last year.

In 2015, the Government ordered Northern to scrap Pacer trains by 2020.

In an open letter this week addressed to David Brown, managing director of Northern Rail, Mr Sobel said: “I am writing to you publicly to reflect my huge disappointment, and the disappointment of many of my constituents, in the news that Pacer Trains are set to remain in service for at least another year.

“In meetings that I had with Northern last year I was assured that Pacers would be taken out of service by the end of 2018. That was then postponed until March 2019. Last week Northern’s Network Planning Director assured my colleagues in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Rail in the North that all its antiquated fleet would be gone by the end of the year.

“News broke yesterday that we would see Pacers for a further year due to technical issues of their replacement trains.

“I have had a huge number of constituents complain about the condition and capacity of these trains on the Harrogate line. They are clearly not fit for purpose and do not serve as the modern, comfortable and reliable service that will encourage people to switch from cars and onto public transport; an urgent need for my community and for cities up and down the country.

“Over 100 of my constituents got in contact with me to complain using my ‘Pacer watch’ campaign reporting several hundred sightings of Pacers.

“Under the terms of your franchise agreement with the Government, Pacers must be no longer in service by January 2020. That is why I am now calling for the franchise to be removed from Northern and for a new, nationalised service to take its place.”

The first nine trains in a £500m new fleet for local rail services started carrying customers from Monday.

A Northern spokesman: “We have put our new trains through an extensive testing programme and the first nine new trains entered service on four routes, including Leeds-Doncaster, this week.

“At the start of the year, we identified a small mechanical design issue that required a fix. We worked with CAF to find a solution but this coupler problem had a regrettable and adverse impact on train delivery, testing and driver training.

“The new fleet of 101 trains, costing £500m, will provide a huge improvement in the on-train experience for customers, with features including air conditioning, free WiFi and power sockets.

“The introduction of the first new trains means we will retire the first Pacer train in August. We are working hard to remove the Pacers by the end of the year. Our top priority is to deliver a reliable train service for passengers, and we are therefore keeping our plans for the final date of Pacer operation under review as we bring the new trains into service.”

The spokesman added that the company was yet to actually receive a letter from Mr Sobel.