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Fare reduction demand over Pacer trains from 1980s

Image copyright Richard Woodward
Image caption Pacer trains have been described as “buses on train wheels”

Politicians in northern England are demanding that passengers still having to use the heavily-criticised Pacer trains should be offered reduced fares.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis and Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake have told operator Northern that using the ageing units is unacceptable.

Pacers are 1980s-built rail-buses meant as a short-term alternative for trains.

Northern had planned to withdraw them all by the end of this year.

It said a small number would have to be retained into 2020 as a result of “further delays in the construction and delivery of new trains from manufacturer CAF”.

The much-derided Pacers were originally constructed from the body of a bus and were intended to have a maximum lifespan of 20 years.

They were a joint venture between British Rail and Leyland Motors

Image copyright Victoria Crossley
Image caption Each Pacer is essentially a Leyland Motors bus mounted on train wheels

In a letter to Northern, Mr Burnham, Mr Jarvis and Ms Blake said it was “unacceptable” that Northern would still be using Pacers into 2020, and called for an urgent meeting.

“However, the alternative of withdrawing the Pacers without any alternative replacements would be an even worse outcome,” they said.

“As we are forced into accepting the temporary retention of Pacers, we expect you to commit, as a matter of urgency, to appropriate financial compensation to the passengers affected.”

‘Massive disappointment’

They said fares should be reduced on all affected routes while the trains were being used.

Commuters complained of the trains being hot, noisy and bumpy.

Image caption Rimsha Sawant commutes from Blackburn to Manchester

Student Rimsha Sawant from Blackburn said she sighs when she sees her train is a Pacer.

“They need replacing because they are not good enough,” she said.

“With all the technology we have we should at least have decent trains.”

Seating arrangement

Commuter Sam Brown said in the summer the heat gets trapped inside “leaving you a sweaty mess”.

“It’s always a massive disappointment when you see a Pacer train waiting at the platform to take you.

“They are incredibly loud when revving up, making it impossible to have a conversation with friends, and you also feel the full force of any bumps on the track,” she said.

However, Sally Carter said she preferred them to more modern trains because of the seating arrangement and large windows.

“I’m rather fond of them and will be sad to see them go,” she said.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionA 2016 video explaining how Britain’s railways came to rely on a train built from the body of a bus

Pacer trains have been regularly used on busy commuter routes, including those into Manchester, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Sheffield and York, as well as on the Merseyrail network.

As of October 2018, almost one in four vehicles operated by Northern was a Pacer, according to the Department for Transport (DfT).

A report from DfT said of the 875 vehicles in its fleet at that time, 158 were Class 142 Pacers, built between 1985 and 1987, while a further 56 were Class 144, built between 1986 and 1988.

Analysis

By Danny Savage, BBC North of England correspondent

Pacers are the laughing stock, rolling stock of the north. Introduced in the 1980s, they are rail-buses originally meant as a short-term solution to a shortage of trains.

Supporters say they’ve helped keep certain routes open and used. Detractors say they highlight the North/South divide and are relics.

Northern promised to withdraw Pacers by the end of this year. In February, the BBC reported concerns they were unlikely to meet that target but Northern strongly denied that was the case.

They insisted they would be gone by the beginning of 2020. More recently, they have admitted some Pacer units will still be in operation into next year.

A Northern spokesman said: “From today we will have 29 of our 101 new trains in service for customers and a further 27 new trains are in final testing or being used for driver training.

“The introduction of new trains from July meant the first Pacer was retired in August, with the majority of Pacers still planned to be removed by the end of this year.

“We agree the North deserves the best possible rail service and are working hard to improve performance and reliability for customers.”

There were calls for Northern to be stripped of its franchise when “carnage” followed the introduction of new timetables in May 2018.

Its franchises cover the North West, Yorkshire, parts of Derbyshire, and the North East.

Read more: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-50119525

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