It might turn into a competition no-one wants to win, but as he leant on the cab of the Pacer train standing at platform seven in Leeds, the Rail Minister was doing his best to sound optimistic.
The so-called railbuses – bus bodies welded on to a train chassis – were intended by the old British Railways to be in service for only 20 years, but nearly 40 will have passed when at the end of the year they are finally retired. However, we still might not have seen the last of them.
The Minister, the Harrogate MP Andrew Jones, was hoping that some of his constituents might be sorry enough to see them go, to want to bid for one as the prize in a competition.
“What’s second prize? Two of them?” wondered the driver of the one on platform seven when the details were put to him.
Mr Jones, who hopes community groups will propose ideas for the onward use of three Pacer carriages for the common good, said: “I could easily imagine them in lots of different uses. Scout huts, doesn’t really matter. I don’t want to put parameters on this.”
Admitting that the trains did not have the cachet of red telephone boxes, hundreds more of which were made available to communities earlier this month, the Minister said: “Most people will be really rather pleased that they’re going. But I think some will have a soft spot for them.
“The trains can’t have much value, although there’s always scrap value in metal. But if there’s a way of prolonging their service to the community, then I think we should be encouraging it.”
The trains are owned by Porterbrook, one of three large leasing companies created in 1994 as part of the privatisation of British Rail, It is making three carriages available to the competition winners, who will be chosen in the autumn.
Northern, the rail company that runs the Pacers in Yorkshire, admitted last December that it had not begun retiring its fleet, as it had promised to do.
But Mr Jones said the company had assured him that its schedule was back on track.
“We’ve seen quite a bit of progress over the past few weeks. We’re seeing approval of the new trains that are coming into service. They have to be approved by the regulator and we’re now at the point where Northern is able to look at staff training, engineering and renewal,” he said.
Asked how passengers in prosperous south Buckinghamshire might react if a Pacer turned up for their commute to Marylebone tomorrow morning, the Minister said: “What was appropriate several years ago – in this case several decades ago – is not appropriate any more. “I know that when you turn up at the station expecting another train and one of these turns up it can cause a problem. But we are in the middle of a renewal of some scale right across the network.”
Some previous Yorkshire Pacers were sold to Iran at the end of their regular life, but the authorities there phased them out nearly 15 years ago.
Similar options for the current fleet were “a question for Porterbrook”, Mr Jones said.
The North’s rail network was still playing “catch-up” from the effects of the “no growth” franchise that was in place from 2004-16, he added.
“Other parts of the network were seeing investment – we didn’t get any. We should have been planning for growth.
“We are now making progress having had a long period of utter stagnation.”
Mr Jones said passenger numbers had continued to grow during that time even though the capacity had not.
“It just led to congested trains and the rolling stock becoming even less fit for purpose,” he said.