Pacers for ever?!! An update ….

Posted on April 16th, 2010, by The Chairman

Last November, following a dinner I was invited to at which Lord Adonis was the speaker, I put together a post speculating on when we were likely to get some more and newer trains.

I was invited to attend Northern’s meeting for Stakeholders last Tuesday. They were able to give us an update on how things have moved forward. Sad to say, it’s not very far at all. In fact, it could almost be said our new trains have moved further away, so it could well be “Pacers for ever”!

Northern are to receive 8 x class 150s from London Midland once they receive their new class 172 diesel trains. However, Northern will be giving away 4 x class 156 Super Sprinters to East Midlands at the same time. This is so East Midlands can put these onto their local services, releasing 4 x class 158s so that these can be used such that all services between Nottingham and Liverpool can be strengthened to 4 coaches. These services suffer from desperate overcrowding both between Sheffield and Manchester, and also Manchester and Liverpool. I understand it was an East Midlands franchise commitment that these services would run as 4 coaches. However, DfT did not allocate them enough trains for them to be able to do this, hence the crush loadings and with people being left behind on platforms. So this looks like being sorted out towards the end of this year, 3 years after DfT took the 5 coach trains (class 170s) off the services, passing these across for use on services from Birmingham to elsewhere in the Midlands and to East Anglia.

Northern are to keep the 3 x 5-car class 180s which were to transfer to East Coast this June until at least December. It had been suggested that the 7 x class 142s coming up from First Great Western towards the end of this year would be acceptable replacements, but Northern apparently rejected this stating class 142s could not be considered to be acceptable replacements to be used on the heavily loaded services that the class 180s operate.

Northern have also been able to keep the 5 x “Oldham Loop” class 142s, thanks to an intervention and temporary funding from GMPTE.

The electrification is still on target for some of it to be open by the end of 2013, probably Manchester to Newton-le-Willows. However, due to procurement difficulties which seem to be a combination of cost overruns and supply issues, the class 319s from Thameslink to run the services may not now be available until 2015 at the earliest, meaning there could be no trains to run the electric services for at least a couple of years! We’re also unclear what would operate the electric Manchester Airport to Scotland services. Possibly class 350/1’s releasing around 9 of the class 185s to go back onto Trans Pennine services for strengthening, but if that were the case, what would replace the 350/1s at London Midland where all are currently in use?

In last November’s post, I stated “….what is to be done in Northern England in the meantime with all the overcrowding, especially in the Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle areas? Nothing in a hurry, it seems. We can have a guess though ….”

I’ve updated my guess ….

We know the Liverpool-Manchester electrification should see the Liverpool-Manchester services operated by redundant class 319 Thameslink units, which are being displaced in the London area by new class 377s. The 319s will by then be around 25 years old, but are good units, though as 4-cars are a bit long for us, as this means they won’t be able to run as 8-cars as many of the platforms on the lines involved are only long enough for 6 or 7 coaches.

The class 319s are 4-car electric versions of our class 150 diesel Sprinters. This will free up around 10 or so diesel units, which we imagine will immediately be snapped up to cope to prevent passengers being left behind on stations because they can’t physically get on trains in the Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle areas. Realistically this is still more than 4 years away.

We know the new class 378 units for London Overground are replacing class 313/1 units, similar to the class 507, 508 units used on Merseyrail, though equipped for AC and DC operation. These are all going to be used elsewhere in the London & South East area, with the trains they replace also being redeployed in the South East.

London Midland are getting new class 172 diesel units for use in the Birmingham area. This will free up 20+ year old class 150 Sprinters. We hear that at least 7 of these are to go to First Great Western to relieve overcrowding in the Bristol/Bath area, who will also be receiving the 8 x class 150/1s from London Overground when they start using their new class 172s this late summer. 8 of the London Midland class 150s will then come to Northern. This leaves a few more available, including the 2 x 3-car class 150/0s (the pre-production sets). There are some other 3-cars, which could be downformed to 2-cars, though not all of them, since two of the 3 cars have centre vehicles from class 150/2 sets where the toilet vehicle was written off in accidents in the late 1980s.

The class 150s going to First Great Western should free up the 7 remaining class 142 Pacers they obtained from Northern a few years ago, so these can be returned to Northern. There is an intention to remove the 3 x high speed 5-coach class 180s Northern have from the local services from Blackpool North/Preston to Manchester Victoria/Hazel Grove so that their 125 mph capability can be used by East Coast for the proposed services from Kings Cross to Lincoln and Harrogate from May 2011. The class 180s are very comfortable, but were a pain on local services due to their renowned unreliability. Northern have worked wonders in getting these running much better, as they have for Grand Central who use class 180s on their services from Sunderland to Kings Cross with Northern providing the maintenance from their depot at Heaton, near Newcastle.

Meanwhile, in Scotland class 380 electrics are on order for the Glasgow-Edinburgh electrification. These will start running around 2012. This should free up diesel units in Scotland, though not necessarily the same number, as many trains around Glasgow and Edinburgh are very crowded and also as the Scottish Executive has an intention to provide all passengers with a seat. This is something we can but dream about in Northern England, where just being able to physically get on trains at places like Atherton, Bolton, Mills Hill, Mossley, Hazel Grove, Saltaire and Chester-le-Street would be a good start! Scotland is then likely to cascade some of their class 156s (just about our best trains!).

The class 323 electrics in the Birmingham area could come to Northern, though I’m not clear what might replace them. The thinking seems to be these would go to the Leeds area to be used on the Aire Valley services so 6-car trains can operate to relieve the crush conditions in the peaks, and also on the Leeds-Doncaster locals. Their 3 4-car class 321s could then go to the South East where all the other 321s are, and their 16 class 333 4-car Siemens electrics might come to the Manchester area. We don’t have a lot of electric lines to operate them on yet though.

All of this, however correct it is, tells us that for those reliant on diesel-operated services in Northern England, (us lot!), the 25-year old draughty, cold, bumpy, uncomfortable Pacers with a design life of 15 years based on 1970s Leyland National bus bodies on a freight wagon style chassis are going to be with us for much longer than originally forecast.

We know Northern have an aspiration to remove Pacers from our line. 156s would be best for us. No Pacers at all will be excellent!

The above is my summary of how I see things. Your comments, as always, are welcome ….

Please leave a comment

  1. Shelia Says:

    The Liverpool Echo is reporting that Liverpool-Manchester electrification is at risk as George Osborne looks for spending cuts to make. Thameslink has also been reported at risk in other media, so it looks like 319s may not be coming to the North West.

    Crossrail has been reported as safe, while High Speed Rail is to be looked at again and the route may be revised.

    It’ll be interesting to see what units we get instead (if any) if the 319s stay put.

  2. Jen Says:

    There’s suggestions that Theresa Villiers is to grant a ‘temporary’ exemption order to the equalities act (which now incorporates the disability discrimination act) to allow non-complaint Pacers and 150s to continue in service during control period 6 (2019-2024.)

    I think should this happen she should limit their use to lines with services at least every 20 minutes where they must be used alongside complaint trains. After all, why should some areas get complaint trains every 10 minutes e.g. Four Oaks to Longbridge which get a 172 every 10 minutes while other areas get non-complaint trains every hour or even less e.g. the Hope Valley stoppers which get a 142 or 150 some hours?

  3. Edd Says:

    Moving non-compliant trains to frequent routes only is something that should happen over the next couple of years anyway (notice I’m saying should not will.) That idea is already commonplace with many bus routes so why shouldn’t it be extended to trains ahead of the non-complaint ones being withdrawn completely.

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