Northern Rail ‘confident’ pacer trains will be replaced by end of 2019, but stopped short of guarantee

A pacer train
A pacer train

Rail bosses stopped short of a cast-iron guarantee that ageing “pacer” trains will be out of use by the end of 2019.

Operator Northern told a meeting of Yorkshire’s political leaders that it “had a robust plan” to replace the 1980s rail buses by the end of the year.

But, when pressed for assurances that the trains would all be out of service, a spokesperson for the operator admitted “alternative options” would need to be explored if problems occurred getting new vehicles onto the tracks.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), which looks after transport and infrastructure projects in the region, met representatives from rail operators Northern and TransPennine Express to discuss the state of the region’s rail services.

Leader of Calderdale Council Tim Swift asked Northern spokesperson Paul Barnfield whether he was confident all “pacer” trains will be out of use by the end of the year.

Mr Barnfield responded: “I can guarantee that we absolutely have a plan to remove all pacers by the end of the year. We are not planning on pacers being in service by the end of 2019.”

Leader of Bradford Council Susan Hinchcliffe, who was also chairing the meeting, said: “You guarantee you have a plan. What else could happen that pacers would be on the line in West Yorkshire?

Mr Barnfield said: “We have a plan that we feel is robust. I have confidence in the robustness around that plan. If there was an issue that occurred around fleet cascade, we will be looking at an alternative option.

“We have a plan, I believe it is robust.”

Coun Hinchcliffe added: “So no pacers by the end of 2019.”

The much-criticised rolling stock dates back to the 1980s, and is made up of a modified bus body and four-wheeled wagon frames.

Northern had originally wanted to replace pacers by the end of 2018, but the Guardian newspaper reported in December 2018 that none had yet been taken out of service.

Leader of Leeds City Council Judith Blake warned that some ageing trains could soon be in breach of forthcoming health and safety rules.

She said: “You have stopped short of guaranteeing they will be gone, but there is legislation coming in in January [2020] regarding toilets flushing onto the track.

“It is absolutely imperative that they are out of the system by next January.”

Leader of Wakefield Council Peter Box asked the operators: “How long do you think it will be before you can deliver a service the public is proud of?”

Speaking on behalf of TransPennine Express, Paul Watson referred to the May 2018 rail timetable crisis, adding: “I was not proud of what happened. We are getting better, but the real key is a robust service. We will start to restore that confidence by the end of the year.”

Mr Barnfield added on behalf of Northern: “We really want to get the basics right, that is critical and we can then deliver a service that we are proud of and customers can get behind.”

Questions were also asked about the recent suspension of weekend strike action from Northern rail staff.

Mr Barnfield said: “We reached a position with the RMT union a week ago to suspend the strike action. It had reached 47 days of strike action in total.

“This allows us to enter into dialogue with them to resolve the dispute, but we welcome the action allows us to move forward in terms of that dialogue.”