PASSENGERS on antiquated Pacer train “relics” are being promised “customer support and offers” by beleaguered rail operator Northern which blames industry- wide problems for delays introducing new rolling stock.
The firm’s promise comes after its punctuality record reached a new low for 2019 – just 53.5 per cent of trains now operate on time – as exasperated political leaders demand urgent action.
Officials from Northern attempted to clarify the planned future use of Pacers – buses from the 1980s which were converted into makeshift trains – in response to a joint letter from Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis, Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham.
In the letter, they tell Northern managing director David Brown that “the retention of Pacers beyond 2019” is an insult which is indicative of “the unceasing disparity between transport investment in the North compared to the South”.
“As we are forced into accepting the temporary retention of Pacers, we expect you to commit, as a matter of urgency, to appropriate financial compensation to the passengers affected,” they add. “A reduction in fares on the affected routes throughout the period of Pacer retention is the very least that could be done.”
Northern’s poor performance led to The Yorkshire Post and newspapers across the region launching the One North campaign last year in the wake of the botched introduction of new timetables.
The initiative was the precursor to the Power Up The North campaign which made a series of policy demands, including this region’s faltering rail services becoming a “national priority”.
Last week Transport Secretary Grant Shapps signalled to MPs that he was ready to intervene as Northern’s reliability record deteriorates still further – despite the firm spending £500m on new trains.
However, a Northern spokesperson defended the firm’s record. “As a result of further delays in the construction and delivery of our new trains from manufacturer CAF, a small number of Pacers units will need to be retained for a short period of time in 2020 to deliver the planned daily timetable with the right capacity for our customers,” they said last night.
“This situation is not unique to Northern. We understand that customers will be disappointed and we are finalising proposals for customer support and offers for customers on those routes on which Pacers will be used in 2020.
“Those proposals will need to be reviewed by Rail North Partnership, the Leeds-based organisation that manages the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises on behalf of Transport for the North and the Department for Transport.
“From Monday, October 21, we will have 29 of our 101 new trains in service for customers and a further 27 new trains are in final testing or being used for driver training.”
The spokesperson added: “The introduction of new trains from July meant the first Pacer was retired in August, with the majority of Pacers still planned to be removed by the end of this year.”
But Mr Jarvis said the retention of these “relics” proves that passengers here are regarded as “second-class citizens”.
“I am pleased that the Secretary of State shares these concerns and is considering taking action to prevent Northern from continuing to let its passengers down with cancellations, delays and poor-quality trains,” he added.
Just one in two Northern trains run on time
JUST Over one in two of trains run by under-fire operator Northern now arrive on time after another slump in its performance, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.
The significant deterioration comes as the latest stay of execution for antiquated Pacer trains prompts political leaders to demand enhanced compensation for passengers.
New data reveals that 53.5 per cent of Northern’s trains were on time between September 15 and October 12 compared to 57 per cent in the previous four-week cycle.
This latest figure is the worst recorded by the company this year as Transport Secretary Grant Shapps now considers whether to nationalise the franchise which is not due to end until March 2025. “I’ve started to take action,” the Cabinet minister told MPs last week.
When new timetables faced chaos in May and June last year following the introduction of new timetables, Northern’s performance figure was 50.1 per cent before climbing to 52.4 per cent at the end of 2018.
In April this year, the number of trains meeting ‘on time’ benchmarks did reach 62.7 per cent before slipping back over the past six months. “We agree the North deserves the best possible rail service and are working hard to improve performance and reliability for customers,” said a Northern spokesperson.
RMT union call for Northern to lose franchise
RMT general secretary Mick Cash has urged Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to strip Northern of its franchise, saying that passengers have been “sold down the river”.
“There can be no more warnings, no more second chances and no more special measures. The time has come to sweep the national embarrassment of the Arriva Rail North franchise off the railway for good with the whole operation brought into permanent public ownership,” he said.
“This company has failed on an epic scale with the connivance and protection of the Tory government. The game is clearly up and we need to draw a line and get a public sector operation swung in sharpish. We know it is tooled up and ready to go so why the delay?
“Not only has this Arriva Northern outfit sold passengers down the river but they are also allowing their contractors to get away with imposing poverty pay on their staff. It is a disgrace and RMT will be jacking up the pressure on all these racketeering, basket-case train companies over the coming months as the fight for a public railway ratchets up a notch.”
The Department for Transport did not respond to The Yorkshire Post’s requests yesterday for a comment.