School pupils in Leeds have suggested that Pacers could be used as a soft play area for children on the autistic spectrum as a contest was officially launched to find new uses for the much-maligned train carriages.
Community groups in the North can submit their plans on how the notorious 1980s carriages can be turned into a "vibrant public asset" as the Department for Transport officially launched a competition today at Bolton station.
The scheme was first revealed in May and Minister Andrew Jones, MP for Harrogate, suggested the trains - described as "buses on train wheels" - could serve communities "in an entirely different way".
Read more: Leeds MP Alex Sobel calls for Northern rail franchise to be nationalised after delay in scrapping Pacers
It has since emerged that, despite promises the Pacers would be scrapped by the end of the year, technical faults with new rolling stock mean a small number will still be running in 2020.
Rolling stock company Porterbrook is supporting the competition by making three Pacer carriages available to be converted to serve communities in a new way off the rail network.
And schoolchildren from St. Catherine’s Primary School in Bolton were among the first to pitch their ideas to Mr Jones, as they drew up their ideas for how the Pacers could be useful in the future.
One pupil, Freya, nine, showed the minister her idea for the ‘time traveller train’, a museum and classroom where people could learn about the history of Bolton. Millie, nine, suggested using an old carriage for a kitchen and pizza stand, while Lauren, nine, wanted to convert a Pacer into a greenhouse to grow vegetables.
A statement by Carr Manor Community School in Leeds said pupils were "excited about the opportunity to enter this competition". It added: "Our vision would be to give a Pacer carriage a new lease of life as a soft play area for autistic learners.
“Many of our children are fascinated by transport - to have the opportunity to visit a carriage every day and to see how it is constructed and how versatile they are would directly support their development of seeing the world in different contexts.
“It would not just be a space for the children from the provision to access and explore their senses and support their emotional regulation, but also for the children locally.”
The DfT is encouraging community groups to submit creative and innovative ideas for converting these carriages over the summer. The competition will run until the end of September and a judging panel, including heritage rail entrepreneur Pete Waterman, will pick the winners. The winners will be announced later this year.
Mr Jones said: “The energy and ideas shown by the children today has been really creative and fun, providing some brilliant examples of how the Pacers could play a new, exciting role in our communities.
“The Pacer trains have been carrying passengers for over thirty years, but they have outstayed their welcome and are being replaced by modern trains and extra services, creating space for thousands more passengers.
“This competition is now open for ideas, and I look forward seeing a host of exciting proposals to provide them with a new home off the tracks.”