Northern Rail Franchise and Rolling Stock Position ….

Posted on February 10th, 2014, by The Chairman

Craig Harrop, Northern’s Client and Stakeholder Manager West very helpfully produced a summary of Northern’s Rolling Stock Position for a recent meeting of the Transport Committee at the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce.

A pdf of the document is available here, with the wording repeated below for those who’d rather read it this way.

It’s a useful history lesson prior to a discussion about what the strategy is / might be for relieving the “crowding” on the trains in the North West of England, and satisfying suppressed demand.

As we thought you might find this interesting, Craig has kindly given us permission to reproduce it for wider consumption.


Northern Rail Franchise and Rolling Stock Position

The launch of the Northern Rail franchise in December 2004, a joint venture between Serco and Abellio, brought together the operations of First North Western and Arriva Trains Northern, meaning that the TOC had similar fleets, diesels from classes 142, 144, 150, 153, 155, 156 and 158, electrics from classes 321, 323, and 333, owned by different ROSCOs and split across four major depots.

The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) stated that this was to be a ‘steady state’ operation with no requirement to grow patronage or develop additional services. Indeed there were plenty of rumours that the plan was to find services and maybe even lines which could be closed in order to make significant savings in the cost of running the franchise. To progress this, in March 2005, the SRA appointed Steer Davis Gleave to review the operational, financial and economic performance of the franchise. Ahead of the presentation of the report’s findings many were prepared for bad news, so when, in March 2006, the report was published there was considerable pleasure at Northern and across the industry to read the conclusion.

“The Northern Rail franchise is an efficient and well managed operation and there are no obvious and acceptable ‘quick wins’ to improving value for money. Northern continues to develop and improve the overall efficiency and value for money of the franchise through well developed and focused initiatives.”

The Government moved quickly to confirm that there would be no change to the franchise and the then rail minister Derek Twigg announced that there would be no closures, no service cuts and no replacing trains with buses. From that point Northern has worked hard to manage what has become an ever increasing demand for its services, particularly in the large urban areas, and to provide additional capacity to cope with these growing passenger numbers.

Since the start of the franchise passenger numbers have grown by over 40%. There is no doubt that pressure from fuel price increases has driven some of this growth and the majority of the new passengers are in the peak but innovative marketing has seen growth on the offpeak services too.

As previously mentioned Northern was let on a steady state franchise meaning the only financial franchise commitment was to spend £250k per annum on disabled access arrangements. However Northern were far from happy with ‘steady state’ and wanted to drive the franchise forward to achieve some real operational and customer improvements. This view was encouraged by shareholders Serco-Abellio as well as by local stakeholders at all levels.

Since the franchise started at the end of 2004 Northern has sourced £130m to spend on franchise improvements, part of that was driven by shareholders through more than £30m re-invested into the business. Northern were also very committed to the principle of working closely with local stakeholders and the PTEs, and were able to obtain around £100m funding through partnership working from a number of sources including the PTEs, regional development agencies and councils to really start making a difference. This went towards investment in additional rolling stock capacity, station improvements, and train refurbishments.

Over the same period the overall train fleet has increased in size by 19% whilst changes to the way the fleets are managed across Northern’s depots have seen reliability improving by 75%. The increase in the fleet is partly due to the HLOS deal, but the first steps were taken in the early part of the franchise through deals with Yorkshire Forward, WYPTE and MerseyTravel.

In April 2006 it was already becoming clear that demand for additional capacity was building but at the same time discussions had started over the possibility of replacing the class 142 Pacers. These were in use across the franchise and working many of the crowded services into urban centres at peak times as well as rural routes where it is often said they enabled many routes to be kept open.

One early deal was for the funding through Yorkshire Forward for six class 158 sets which started to add capacity into the city centres, including on services where Northern was aware that passengers were regularly being left behind at stations because there was no physical way they could board the heavily loaded trains. This was a groundbreaking moment because it was the first time a local Regional Development Authority had been involved in funding local transport. The six sets were released from the Central Trains franchise in April 2006 and were based at Neville Hill depot in Leeds.

A year later the funding deals agreed with MerseyTravel and the DfT enabled a further 19 2-car class 158 sets to join Northern from Arriva Trains Wales, First TransPennine Express and South West Trains. The taking on of these sets was done in a direct deal with the rolling stock leasing company Angel Trains and not only did these add additional capacity but their arrival enabled 22 class 142 Pacer units to be put into warm storage from May 2007.

Prior to this Northern had begun to look at plans to withdraw many of its class 142 Pacer sets permanently and had created two business cases to put to the DfT; one for the replacement of all of its class 142 sets and another for the replacement of just 55 sets.

Both business cases had a positive cost/benefit ratio but once Northern started to discuss the HLOS programme with the DfT it became apparent that if the aim was to increase capacity it was difficult to make the case to take Pacers out of the fleet, even if a replacement gave a net benefit.

So the whole plan which, as was widely reported at the time, included looking at options for new trains made in China, as just one of many possibilities, was dropped.

As 2007 progressed it became apparent that there was a requirement for extra rolling stock in Scotland which could not be ignored and it was decided that Class 158 sets would be best suited for that franchise. Northern was asked to sub-lease eight 2-car Class 158s to First ScotRail and to release two single-car Class 153 sets and a 2-car Class 158 to the new East Midlands Trains franchise.

The loss of capacity at Northern was covered by the reinstatement from warm store of 15 Class 142 sets in December 2007 which were shared across the business. At the same time a call for additional capacity at First Great Western saw the remaining seven Class 142 sets still in store moving to FGW on a long sub-lease until December 2011.

The December 2008 changes to the Virgin West Coast timetable, with the move to its intensive “VHF” service had an operational impact on several other operators, with Northern’s train plan suffering significantly. The new West Coast timetable caused a notable efficiency loss in the Northern fleet due to pathing and balanced workings being broken.

Fortunately the DfT acknowledged that it would have been entirely wrong if Northern’s capacity had had to be reduced as a result of that timetable so it recognised that to sustain capacity meant adding trains into the fleet. Northern demonstrated to the DfT where the efficiency losses would have an adverse impact and this was the driving force behind getting a number of class 142s back into the operational fleet as well as the innovative solution leasing three class 180 sets on a temporary basis until the Class 150s became available.

The three 5-car 180s were taken from five sets in store pending possible use with the East Coast franchise and with a need for two sets in service each day, targeted at peak services which would normally be worked by a pair of 2-car units, the 180s effectively released four 2-car sets for use on other services.

There was further tangible evidence that ‘steady state’ was no longer the plan when Northern was asked to introduce trains between Nottingham and Leeds. Discussions about this new service came about during the preparation for the East Midlands franchise letting when it could have been included in the specification for the remapped franchise but, in considering options for the new franchise, DfT turned to Northern and asked it to look at the possibility of extending the then Leeds to Sheffield via Barnsley service to Nottingham.

Once it became clear that these trains wouldn’t fit within the overall pathing over the route Northern looked at a business case for introducing an additional Leeds to Nottingham service which could be interposed into the existing timetable. This was accepted by the DfT and the new December 2008 timetable offered a half-hourly service between Leeds and Sheffield via Barnsley that continued hourly to Nottingham.

The additional resources needed for this apparently simple plan included an additional 20 drivers and similar number of conductors and it certainly wasn’t a low-cost option, but it has performed well in terms of patronage and the business case projections have proved to be absolutely valid.

Whilst these initiatives continued Northern was seeing further growth attracting more and more passengers. A Government White Paper in 2007 started to set the objectives and capacity requirements into urban centres for the next Control Period (CP4) and this was followed by the DfT’s rolling stock plan in January 2008 which indicated that 182 additional vehicles would be required for the Northern franchise.

So, whilst Northern had been given a briefing about the HLOS plans in August 2007 the first formal discussions with the DfT began in March 2008. Initial development work for Northern’s future fleet requirements was indeed centred on the figure of 182 which was based on all the criteria set out in the 2007 ‘Towards a Sustainable Transport System (Supporting Economic Growth in a Low Carbon World)’ White Paper.

A substantial suite of strengthening proposals based on the 182 vehicles and the mix of new and cascaded electric and diesel sets that were to come to Northern were developed. Included in the discussions was a plan to transfer all of Northern’s 17 Class 323 3-car EMUs to London Midland with new or cascaded sets replacing them in the North West. The DfT applied affordability and value for money criteria to the proposals and asked for further work to be carried out. The DfT finally concluded that it would be helpful to concentrate on services that were loaded in excess of 100% and this is the overall criteria that ended up developing the HLOS plan.

In November 2008 the DfT was keen to move things on and met with Northern and First Group to discuss the possibility of a build of new vehicles which, for Northern Rail, would have seen an order for either 69 or 72 vehicles to be formed into 3-car sets. A great deal of work was undertaken to support the DfT business case and to decide how to deploy the sets until the process came to a halt in July 2009 when Lord Adonis announced plans for a programme of electrification, including key routes in the north west. This meant the DfT concluded that the requirement for new build diesels was superseded by the electrification proposals.

In developing the business case for the Northern Triangle electrification programme, the DfT identified that the Class 319 sets which were to be released by the Thameslink programme could possibly provide a value-for-money source of rolling stock. It was noted at this point that in their current state these units could not meet the sectional running times that can be achieved by the 323s so either a new timetable or significant re-engineering, with a traction upgrade, would be required to enable them to match the Class 323 acceleration curve if they were to be considered for use in South Manchester.

Discussions also centred on the Class 150 fleet which was to be released by London Midland on delivery of its new Class 172 DMUs. A number of operators expressed interest in the units but the DfT took the decision to split them between just FGW and Northern (although Northern made the point that it could have made use of the entire fleet). This cascade saw 4 class 156s and 2 class 153s moving to East Midlands Trains with 18 class 150s joining the Northern fleet; at the same time the 3 class 180s moved to First Great Western with the 7 class 142s returning to Northern.

Work then centred on listing Northern’s services in descending order of crowding in order to provide a plan that prioritised the heaviest loading trains and deployed the vehicles in the most effective way possible, using a Class 150 in place of a 142 and a 156 in place of a 150 and so on. At no point did Northern consider the withdrawal of any Pacers, but with their smaller capacity there was a strong incentive to move them away from peak services where possible, or to use them in pairs where they were still needed.

The increase in the size of the Northern Rail fleet was DfT funded and the case for providing extra capacity remains very powerful. Wherever Northern have provided additional capacity it has been taken up as expected.

As well as the Class 150s Northern was keen to expand the electric train fleet in the Leeds area where the 16 Class 333 and 3 Class 321 EMUs were not sufficient to cover all daily diagrams and as well as being forced to diagram all three 321s every day the TOC was operating some DMUs ‘under the wires’ to deliver the timetable. The availability of the five Class 322 EMUs released by ScotRail following the arrival of its new Class 380 EMUs, offered a quick solution to this problem and now means that the 8-strong Class 321/322 fleet has seven daily diagrams.

It was clear that 4 maintenance depots would be insufficient to ensure Northern could continue to maintain its fleet effectively and so Allerton depot near Liverpool was brought back into service on 10 December 2011 in partnership with Network Rail. The depot currently maintains part of the Class 156 fleet; however in the future it is expected it will also be the home for the cascaded EMU fleet.

The total HLOS package saw 60 additional vehicles enter the Northern fleet and has seen capacity created for an additional 2.2 million passengers every year. The result has been a further increase in ridership and analysis of the financial benefits shows that DfT support for Northern is delivering economic benefits to the region.

Summary of extra vehicle class capacities below

Class No of Vehicles No of Units Total Seats

142 14 7 742
150 36 18 2682
322 20 5 1545

IN 70 30 4969

153 1 2 150
156 8 4 588
180 5 3 804

OUT 14 9 1542

The Future

Looking ahead the electrification of the Northern Triangle is making good progress and there’s a real possibility that the continued delay in signing the order for the replacement Thameslink fleet will delay the cascade of Class 319 sets to the North West. The wires could go live with no electric trains available to run under them and the often asked question about the possible use of the nine Class 317/7 sets released by Greater Anglia comes to the fore once again. Unblocking the Thameslink rolling stock process is absolutely crucial.

Following the electrification scheme focus turns to what is dubbed ‘HLOS 2’ and the next rolling stock for the North of England. HLOS 2 brings fresh metrics for the urban centres and the key piece that is missing from the jigsaw is ‘what’s the rolling stock solution?’ Central to this will be the future of the Class 142 units, which are reaching life expiry, with an assumed withdrawal date at the end of 2019 as it is assumed that they cannot be made to be compliant with current DDA regulations through refurbishment. Class 142 Pacers will be approaching 40 years old by the end of the decade so it would be very difficult to justify significant expenditure on the fleet to make them PRM (Passengers with Reduced Mobility) compliant for a short period of further use.

Looking at the overall success of Northern it is clear that Northern has worked as a concept; the challenge of bringing two franchises together has worked well and suggestions that the franchise should once again be split in half may not offer the best value for money. It is also clear that ‘steady state’ could never happen again and continued expansion will absolutely be one of the fundamentals for the next franchise.

The ‘Rail North’ proposal that will potentially see greater local control through the PTEs and local authorities will not be a simple process. A significant challenge for any devolved body will be how to get the funding into the franchise and how to deal with rolling stock replacement, station enhancement and growth in capacity at an affordable level.

Craig Harrop, Client and Stakeholder Manager West, Northern Rail
4 February 2014


Please leave a comment

  1. Mike Battman Says:

    Very interesting, but the question I have to ask is, why do Northern have to have ‘hand me downs’?
    Why do London Overground, London Midland, etc. get new trains and we have to be grateful with their cast-offs?

  2. Richard Boyd Says:

    There’s a rumour doing the rounds that when the 319s do eventually appear, they’ll be reduced from four to three coaches, which in the context of growing passenger numbers doesn’t look too clever.

  3. The Chairman Says:

    The latest we hear is that Northern has five Class 319s coming this summer, as they come off lease in May with First Capital Connect.

    We hear they will not be receiving a refurburbishment.

    This will allow some DMUs to be released, though these may move to another TOC.

  4. Jen Says:

    Northern are expected to extend a Victoria-Rochdale service to Todmorden in May and then to Blackburn via Burnley when additional trains are available, which is set to be in December (funding has been secured by Lancashire County Council to do that.) Northern are also expected to change the Lime Street to Warrington Bank Quay services to be Lime Street to Victoria services. If they may release a unit or two to another operator then I can’t see any services getting strengthened such as the 07:17 Manchester-Chester.

    Richard Boyd: The reason for that is people raised issues with using 4 car EMUs on local North West services as that’ll mean some services won’t get any extra capacity and the platforms are too short for 8 cars. To overcome that issue Porterbrook have unveiled an option to make some of the 319s 3 carriages with corridor connectors but it isn’t guaranteed to go ahead. The options are detailed in this pdf:

  5. Vince Chadwick Says:

    Good grief! These units are the thick end of 30 years old! Why does the south get new stock and we get not only the cast-offs, but cast offs that were knocking on a bit at the end of the last century!

  6. Simon Barber Says:

    Why? Because the decisions are made in London. One of the driving forces behind the ‘Rail North’ project is to try to gain some control here in the north.

  7. Jen Says:

    There is some logic in cascading 319s to new routes but there isn’t any logic in Southern ordering new 4 and 5 car EMUs while the North gets cascaded 4 car EMUs, which may have a centre carriage removed.

  8. Jen Says:

    It’s sounding like TPE’s 170s are to go to Chiltern in 2015. DfT told BBC North West Tonight that replacement stock will be sourced but the rumour is that these are set to be Northern 158s indirectly released by Chat Moss electrification!

  9. Vince Chadwick Says:

    TPE are currently operating their franchise with a fleet of newish 170s. How can government come along and take those trains away from them? Surely TPE would call ‘foul!’ as taking away the 170s would compromise TPE’s service provision and therefore franchise performance through no fault of their own. Is it that TPE have brokered a deal with DfT over this? ‘Pay us handsomely and we’ll let the 170s go? Especially if you also bung us some NR scrap-yard-dodgers to replace them’.

    But if that’s the case, what’s in it for NR to allow their fleet to be reduced, causing their franchise performance to be impacted? Will they be financially ‘compensated’ by government? Does anyone know if this is how this works, and if not, how it does actually work?

  10. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    The issue is essentially a legacy of the DfT West Coast franchise fiasco. The lease period on the 9 TPE class 170s ends at the current end of TPE’s franchise in 2015. But the new franchises are all delayed because of the West Coast fiasco. DfT is negotiating a 1-year extension of the TPE franchise to 2016 by means of a “Direct Award”. But the leasing company (Porterbrook) have decided that they will get a better deal by leasing the 170s to Chiltern (who have a 25-year franchise) from 2015.

  11. Jen Says:

    Vince Chadwick, currently the TPE trains are all off-lease from 2015 as that’s when the franchise ends. Northern Rail’s units at present are all currently off-lease from April this year for the same reason. Apparently, Chiltern approached Porterbrook and asked if they could lease the 170/3s from 2015 until 2021 when their franchise ends and Porterbrook were more than happy to oblige. DfT are claiming it’s a commercial arrangement between Chiltern and Porterbrook so they haven’t been involved in it but have assured TPE they will get replacement units. It seems the lack of available DMUs and DfT delaying the new franchises has let Chiltern take advantage with them having the one franchise that is secure for the next few years.

  12. Vince Chadwick Says:

    Thanks Jen. Predatory train-pinching by Chiltern, then, and lack of fleet protection by DfT for the next TPE franchiser.

  13. Simon Barber Says:

    Andrew’s response is very illuminating. Now we can see that amongst the many things which make little sense in this industry, is that DFT effectively control the train operating companies via the franchise system, and DFT have great influence on Network Rail via their shareholding (being the only shareholder), but they appear not to control the ROSCOs, thus creating fiascos like this one where the franchise end date no longer coincides with the train lease end date. It makes no sense at all to part re-nationalise the railway by taking the powers to direct parts of it (TOCs, primarily) when other parts (ROSCOs) can behave in contradictory fashion. Sadly, we seem to have no politicians these days who are big enough to tackle the structural problems of the industry created by their predecessors.

  14. Jen Says:

    Simon Barber, which franchises have different end date to the rolling stock lease end dates? The only ones I’m aware of are where the franchise is planning to give up all or some of a class of train before the end of the franchise e.g. the 319s with First Capital Connect. With the TPE franchise extension not being signed off the lease end dates are currently 01/04/2015 and not February 2016.

  15. Simon Barber Says:

    Jen – I’m talking about the examples in this thread! I.e. cases where the DFT is making decisions late in the day, to extend franchises or let direct operating contracts, but whilst the TOCs are kept waiting for DFT decisions, the ROSCOs go their own way because they are not subject to the DFT in the same way. So TPE cannot have the 170s because the ROSCO has decided they can make more money by letting them go somewhere else. Both TPE and DFT are left on the sidelines whilst Chiltern and Porterbrook do a deal. Northern are of course in the same position as TPE with regard to their franchise, but they don’t have the same desirable collection of rolling stock on lease as TPE do. But suppose there was a TOC with a longer franchise seeking, say, Northern’s nice 323s… Northern can’t sign a new deal for them right now so they could be grabbed by someone else who can! And DFT appear unable to stop it, if the 170s are anything to go by. (Or did DFT facilitate Chiltern’s deal but don’t want to admit it?) Either way – what a nonsense.

  16. Jen Says:

    Network Rail have started on infrastructure work to allow the new Chiltern service to start next year so it suggests that either DfT envisaged them taking on units from the North or there is suitable loco hauled stock available for that service but Chiltern tried to sign the 170s due to them being cheaper.

    Don’t the 323s have a clause on them whereby because TfGM funded the CCTV that if they leave the Manchester area then 17 replacement trains with CCTV need to be provided?

    In theory if Northern sign a franchise extension in the next couple of weeks they could ask Porterbrook for the Anglia 156s (which there are 9 of and are off-lease later in the year) and then sublease 9 x 158s to TransPennine Express and the problem is solved, but would DfT allow that?

    Likewise, would they allow Northern to sign a deal for the 30 x off-lease Anglia 379s so that Northern have enough EMUs to operate all the services on Chat Moss from December? They could even give up the 323s and replace them with something newer and better if they did that.

  17. Rail Officer Says:

    Hello Jen,

    You are so knowledgeable – it would be great to meet so I can talk to you – I’m sure that it would help my limited knowledge!

    Thank you.

    Mid Cheshire Community Rail Partnership

  18. The Eye Says:

    People seem to have missed a key factor with the 170’s going south. There will be no reduction in capacity!! 9×2 car trains being replaced by 10×4 car trains. Flexibility may be affected, but capacity will improve!

  19. Vince Chadwick Says:

    ” They could even give up the 323s and replace them with something newer and better if they did that.”

    I hope not! I’m a regular 323 user from Wilmslow or Alderley (my local stations) and think they are superb trains. Quiet, fast, good acceleration, airy inside with big windows and good window / seat alignment and reasonable leg room on even the ‘airline’ arranged seats. And you can open the window top-lights for ventilation on hot days!

    Great trains for the Manchester – Crewe line. But they do seem to suffer a lot of wheel flats for modern units with (presumably) anti-lock brakes.

  20. Jen Says:

    Re: The Eye TPE were supposed to introduce 5tph on North TPE in December 2012, they are finally doing that in a few weeks which will mean that they will have to reduce services again in 2015 unless they get replacement stock for the 170s. The plan was for TPE to keep those 170s until December 2018 and when the Blackpool-Manchester Airport services switch to electric in 2016 to have 6tph on North TPE. In December 2018 most North TPE services should be able to switch to electric meaning they’ll need a lot less diesel trains.

    MP Louise Ellman from the Transport Select Committee has written to the Patrick McLoughlin asking why Chiltern need to take on TPE trains from 2015 and what options are available for TPE. The letter can be viewed here:

  21. Mike Battman Says:

    That’s a good letter, it’ll be interesting to see what weasel answers she receives in response from the Transport Secretary.

  22. Train user Says:

    Stephen Hammond has just given some answers in a Westminster Hall debate this morning:
    * In October 2013 DfT were made aware that Chiltern wanted to take on the 170/3s.
    * An agreement is apparently in place between Chiltern and TPE for no 170/3s to leave TPE ahead of the May 2015 timetable change.
    * DfT are apparently negotiating a deal so that some of the 170/3s can be subleased back to TPE until the May 2016 timetable change.
    * The next bidders of the Northern franchise (starting in 2016) will be expected to include plans for withdrawing Pacers as part of their franchise bids.

  23. The Chairman Says:

    Interesting House of Commons debate on Wednesday about rolling stock in Northern England –

    For those who haven’t time to trawl through the lot, the following is of most interest ….

    Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab):

    Last Wednesday was an illustration of just how little significance is attached to the needs of train users in the north of England; there was an immature response from the Government Front Bench team to a serious question.

    Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab):
    This situation is … a long-term consequence of the Government’s not investing in enough rolling stock throughout the whole country.

    Angela Smith:
    The problem with the northern hub is that although it opens up the network, frees it up and creates more capacity, there remains a potential problem, .., of providing the rolling stock that is necessary to ensure that we can make good use of the increased capacity. The argument we are making today, to ensure that that rolling stock remains in the north of England and that we have sufficient rolling stock capacity to make good use of the northern hub, once it is completed.

    I echo the questions asked by the Chair of the Transport Committee, “Who decided to transfer the trains away from TransPennine? When did DFT officials first learn of the proposal? When were Ministers informed of the proposal?”
    The rail industry press is reporting that Northern Rail’s older Class 158s could be transferred on to TransPennine routes as replacement stock. If these stories are correct, the logical consequence will be a problem passed on ultimately to Northern Rail, which is already short of diesel-powered trains. Will the Minister confirm or deny the press reports that the Department is considering transferring Northern Rail’s Class 158s to the TransPennine franchise to plug the gap?

    Let us not forget the other part of the equation, Northern Rail, which serves, as the name suggests, much of the rail needs of the north of England and which is also threatened, as I have explained, as a direct consequence of any loss of TransPennine trains.

    Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD)
    The Hon. Lady will appreciate that Network Rail spent about £20 million on the Todmorden curve and another £20 million-odd reconstructing the Cliviger Holme tunnel. We will have a brand-new tunnel and a brand-new rail link from Burnley to Manchester, but we will not have any trains

    We are putting a lot of pressure on Northern Rail to deliver the trains, even in the state they are in, never mind getting new trains. If we can get the ones it has to run that link it would be good. Will the Hon. Lady request that trains be provided?

    Angela Smith:
    Building a curve and new link but not being able to use them illustrates perfectly the stupidity of the position that we are in. A senior Northern source has been quoted as saying: “We’ve told DFT we’re less than 10 months away from the proposed start of the electric service, we’re beyond the critical path, they’re not going to get refurbished and we’re not going to be able to operate the full service in the time we’ve got available.”

    The train operators are having their arms tied behind their back by decisions made in DFT that do not give franchisees the security they need to secure deals with the rolling stock companies.

    Northern Rail passengers need to know whether Ministers will allow those trains [Pacers] to be used beyond 2020.

    We need an answer.

    It is becoming obvious where the Government’s priority lies when it comes to rail lines, and the priority is not with passengers in the north of England.

    There are not enough trains in the system to provide the expansion capacity that the UK so badly needs.

    John Pugh (Southport) (LD):
    Any sane franchise arrangement would seek to get rid of the Class 142s.

    Recently, my colleagues and I submitted a document called “Grim up North?” to the Chancellor, which, among other things, analyses transport expenditure.

    Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op):
    The interests of the leasing company, Porterbrook, rests with moving the trains to Chiltern Railways, rather than leaving them for the 10-month extension that has been awarded to First TransPennine Express. That issue has been raised at the Select Committee, which has already written to the Secretary of State to ask several important questions. First, did Ministers know what was happening? We understand that they did. If they did not, they should have known that something so important was going on. Secondly, what will Ministers do about the situation?

    Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab):
    One of the Department for Transport’s 12 policies is expanding and improving the rail network. Within that policy the Department states:
    “Rail is vital to the UK’s economic prosperity. If rail services are inefficient and do not meet people’s needs for routing or frequency, business and jobs suffer.”

    I do not think that anybody would disagree with that, but the condition and suitability of the rolling stock is also about meeting people’s needs. I ask the Minister: why is quality of the rolling stock not included in that policy?

    Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab):
    Members…will be disappointed if they believe that chastising a Minister, of whatever party, for the decisions of civil servants at the Department for Transport can be the equivalent of a magic wand, and make everything right. The structure and nature of the industry simply will not allow train operating companies to make their own decisions about which rolling stock is most appropriate for their passengers.

    It is clear from this debate and many others in the past that the current model is not delivering for a significant number of passengers. Rolling stock is one problem, and far too often Ministers and civil servants make those decisions over the heads of the train operating companies at the behest of the rolling stock companies. Every decision taken on rolling stock has a domino effect on every other franchise.

    Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op):
    Do we have a system that allows new rolling stock on to our railways? I do not think we do and I would appreciate the Minister commenting on that.

    Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab):
    Robbing Peter to pay Paul is clearly not the solution that passengers need.

    We already have real uncertainty over rail projects. The Todmorden curve is a case in point. …. “an inexcusable piece of incompetence about which local people are justifiably angry.”

    Northern Rail said in October that “there are no spare trains on the market at the moment”. The case illustrates both a failure to plan, and the lack of available rolling stock for expanded services.

    If replacement rolling stock is transferred from Northern Rail, the same problem will be repeated. Passengers, transport authorities and operators now face years of uncertainty over rolling stock availability before electrification is completed. Drivers cannot be trained and new services cannot be planned. If still more trains are lost, those problems will only become more unmanageable.

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond):
    The significant steps that we are taking towards electrification throughout the country, including the north, undoubtedly means that the rolling stock market is preparing to invest heavily in electric units. There is less demand for diesel units, and there is a short-term mismatch.

    Hon. Members asked when the Department for Transport knew about that [the Chiltern lease]. It knew in October 2013. The Government are well aware of the problem and will ensure that a solution is found. Discussions are taking place between Chiltern Railways and First TransPennine Express to allow the ongoing TransPennine franchise to retain the trains until May 2015.

    The Department has made it clear that it expects train operators and rolling stock companies ultimately to resolve the situation. I understand the difficulties faced by passengers on that route. I am confident that an agreement will shortly be reached whereby electric rolling stock will operate on some services between Liverpool and Manchester from December 2014.

    With the introduction of new rolling stock into the region, higher quality rolling stock will be released for use across the network.

  24. Jen Says:

    Arriva Trains Wales are to introduce a 4 car loco-hauled working on North Wales to Manchester services from December, which will apparently in turn mean more 3 car workings on Manchester to South Wales services.

    Given the apparent rolling stock shortage but all the additional loco-hauled trains that appeared the weekend the Tour De France visited Yorkshire I wonder if more loco-hauled trains are the short-term solution.

  25. sally buttifant Says:

    We need different solutions to this serious & nationwide issue. I think that loco hauled trains can help but there are not endless supplies of them. I was at a conference last week where Viva Rail spoke about the 100 District Line trains which are coming available and could be converted to run as diesel (emission compliant). We need more diesel trains in the short term and more electrification in the longer term. I am interest in light rail solutions and tram train and bi mode trains. Whatever solutions are taken up the Govt needs to get a grip & INVEST into the rail network across the North

  26. Jen Says:

    Vivarail have published plans on their proposed ‘new’ trains on their new website: They look a bit like a cross between a London Underground train and a Merseyrail train, with the option of a toilet.

  27. Sally Buttifant Says:

    If we get more, longer & more comfortable trains – I am in favour!

  28. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    A key issue is that the D78 stock will be limited to 60mph. This would be an issue between Piccadilly and Stockport.

  29. Jen Says:

    There may be a few issues with using them directly on the Mid-Cheshire line. According to an article by railway journalist Roger Ford these ‘new’ trains would have a top speed of 60mph, yet there are sections where Mid-Cheshire services run at 75mph. On board there doesn’t appear to be any designated cycle rack and the only luggage space appears to be between the seat backs.

  30. Jen Says:

    DfT have put out a press release claiming there’s good news for the North of England:

    It seems the real story (according to what Tony Miles has posted on wnxx) is 4 x TPE 170s will go to Chiltern in May and 4 x 156s (released by the introduction of 319s) will be subleased from Northern to TPE instead of providing extra capacity on Northern services. The 156s will be used on Manchester Airport-Blackpool services.

    Then from September the Liverpool South Parkway to Blackpool North service will be split at Preston so 319s are used between Liverpool South Parkway and Preston, so that Northern have a couple of units to use for extra capacity.

    The other 5 x TPE 170s will be subleased back from Chiltern to TPE until early 2016 and will only be used on South TPE services.

  31. Andrew Macfarlane Says:


    Also Northern are to use two sets of loco-hauled stock (hired from DRS) on the Cumbrian Coast line. There is a deafening silence as to what the position is with the extension of services from Todmorden to Burnley and Blackburn, i.e. whether that will still happen from May 2015.

  32. Jen Says:

    Andrew Macfarlane – Yes DRS confirmed that later yesterday. The other thing not confirmed is whether Northern will still strengthen an additional Hazel Grove to Preston diagram using a unit released from Chat Moss, or whether using some 4 car 156s on Manchester Airport to Blackpool services is seen as an alternative solution.

    It also appears Tony Miles’ initial analysis had a mistake in it – TPE will sublease 6 x 156s from Northern and 5 x 170s will go to Chiltern with 4 remaining, not the other way around.

    Also apparently the splitting up of the Liverpool-Blackpool service isn’t confirmed but is being looked in to and TPE are still looking at options for what will run the Friday/Saturday Scottish diagram that is currently operated by 2 x 185s.

  33. Mike Battman Says:

    I’ve come across a pdf showing this in diagrammatic form; but not sure how to link it on here.

    (Ed: the link Mike mentions is a pdf called 141027 Arcturus Rolling Stock Cascade. I’ve inserted it at the base of the original post, above).

  34. Simon Barber Says:

    I wonder how much of this was ‘agreement’ by Northern and how much they were forced into it. Otherwise, why sublease their best units to TPE (156s) instead of their worst (Pacers). It seems as if Northern have the short straw in stock allocations, again.

  35. Jen Says:

    Simon Barber – It was almost certainly enforced on Northern by DfT. There was the alternative option of TransPennine Express taking on the Eversholt 170s which were off-lease with Scotrail from the Spring but they’ve now been secured by Govia for Southern services. As the TPE Direct Award hadn’t been signed presumably TPE had to follow DfT instructions and if DfT had instructed TPE to try and get units Scotrail may still have wanted, it would have been controversial.

    If a Northern crew member is to believed the Mid-Cheshire line was supposed to get 2 x 156s freed up by introducing 319s on Liverpool to Manchester Airport services and then the Mid-Cheshire line would have released a 142 for strengthening services on the Bolton corridor and a 142/150 for the Todmorden curve.

  36. The Chairman Says:

    I had heard this re the 156s as well, the thinking being Lime Street drivers sign the route to Chester, so could bring the units to/from Chester from Lime Street / Allerton, going back to Lime Street on Merseyrail, this also relieving congestion in Stockport Carriage Sidings / Longsight / Newton Heath, and moving towards Northern’s stated aim of getting 142s off the Mid Cheshire Line.

  37. Jen Says:

    With regards to the converted ex-London Underground D78s it’s been suggested on wnxx if trials are successful then bidders for the next Northern Rail franchise will be looking to use them in the North East and Cumbria, with other franchises apparently interested in them as well.

  38. Vince Chadwick Says:

    I see that we are to loose the best commuter trains in the North West – the 323 EMUs, which are destined for the West Midlands. With the Northern Powercut (and I believe it is a cut, not a pause), TPE losing modern DMUs to Chiltern, the dumping of Thameslink cast-offs on us while they get new trains, and now the loss of our best EMUs we may be stuck with nodding donkeys for years yet. There are some of those even now operating Manchester – Crewe services so it’s pot luck on that line whether you enjoy the best commuter trains of the region, or suffer the worst.

    I wonder what will replace 323s on Stoke and Crewe services? What else is fast enough, with good enough acceleration, not to hold up the Virgin flyers?

    None of this bad news for NW rail bodes well for better stock on our line, let alone electrification.

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