Government U-turn on scrapping Pacers 'avoids passengers being abandoned', claims minister

A Government U-turn on a promise to scrap the North’s notorious Pacer trains by the end of next month was necessary to avoid “passengers being abandoned and lines empty”, Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris has said.

Pacer trains have become a symbol of underinvestment in the North's railways.

The Government had said Pacers – buses from the 1980s which were converted into makeshift trains – would be axed from the railways by the end of 2019 but has been forcedto drop the pledge after technical problems with new rolling stock.

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In February, Rail Minister Andrew Jones promised Pacers would be retired by the end of 2019.

Mr Heaton-Harris, who was appointed as a minister of state with responsibility for rail at the Department for Transport in July, said today there have been “assurances” from operator Northern the trains will now be phased out by the end of May 2020.

Writing in The Yorkshire Post today, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “We have had to accept that Northern will maintain a skeleton crew of Pacers on the rail network in the North into the start of next year.

“The choice facing us is to either keep a small, but vital, number of outdated trains on the network – maintaining services whilst the last of the new trains come into play – or to drag them off the rails to the scrapheap without a replacement being in place, leaving passengers abandoned and lines empty.

“With these two options on the table, our hand has been reluctantly forced.

“At the heart of this decision, as with all our decisions over the railway, we want to put passengers first and I have demanded action as quickly as possible.

“We now have assurances from Northern that Pacers will be coming off the network by the end of May 2020.”