TRANSPORT ministers are facing new embarrassment after confirmation that they will almost certainly break a promise to scrap the North’s notorious Pacer trains by the end of the year.
Technical faults with new rolling stock being introduced by under-fire rail operator Northern from today mean that the loathed Pacers – – dubbed buses on rails – will stay in service even longer than planned. This is embarrassing for Harrogate MP Andrew Jones after he staked his reputation on this issue when appointed Rail Minister last November.
In The Yorkshire Post on February 8, Mr Jones said: “I am delighted, as I’m sure my fellow Yorkshire commuters will be, to confirm that all those Pacer trains will be retired by the end of this year.”
Furthermore, Mr Jones launched a new competition in May for innovative ideas on how to convert the ancient trains into community facilities.
According to Northern, 102 Pacer trains remain in use and this was greeted with dismay by Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin, who said: “This is yet another disappointment for the North as we find ourselves at the back of the queue when it comes to new rolling stock.
“Trust is at an all-time low. We know regeneration of our towns and cities can only happen when we get the infrastructure right – they even managed to order, and build, new trains for London before the completion of the Crossrail line.”
A Northern spokesperson confirmed new trains will enter service on four routes, including the Leeds to Doncaster line, on Monday following an “extensive testing programme” to the new £500m fleet.
However, she confirmed that “a small mechanical design issue” to the coupling between carriages was identified earlier this year and this had “a regrettable and adverse impact on train delivery, testing and driver training”.
“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,” she added.
A Department for Transport spokesperson acknowledged the promise made by Mr Jones might now be broken.
“Due to delays in manufacturing of new trains, a small number of pacers may continue on the network into the beginning of the New Year,” he added. “Our absolute priority is ensuring passengers in the North benefit from new trains, more services and increased capacity as quickly as possible.”
No plan to use redundant Crossrail trains in interim
OFFICIALS at Northern say it would be impractical to use new trains intended for London’s Crossrail line as a stop-gap measure.
Rolling stock worth £1bn is sitting idly in sidings because of delays to the new route which has also gone up in cost from £14.8bn to £17.6bn. Originally due to open last year, it may not now be operational until 2021.
However, a Northern spokesperson said the trains may not be compatible with the rail infrastructure here.
“I’m not aware of any plans to look into this,” she added. “It’s not as straightforward as swapping one set of trains for another.”