Three different takes on the Chancellor’s announcement in the Autumn Statement. Reading the small print, our view is that it makes no new commitments. Train companies will be “encouraged”, not “required”, to provide a better quality of rolling stock to replace the obsolete Pacers. They are to be “phased out”, which could mean at the start of the franchise, or by the end which could be a very long time away.
Autumn Statement: New trains for northern rail routes
Investment in new rolling stock for rail franchises in the north of England has been announced by the government.
The move is part of Chancellor George Osborne’s ambition to create a northern economic “powerhouse”.
It means the Northern Rail and Trans-Pennine Express routes will see the current “pacer” trains replaced with new and modern vehicles.
Mr Osborne said in his Autumn Statement announcement that the current rolling stock was “ancient and unpopular”.
Pacer trains were built between 1980 and 1987, and were originally intended a short-term solution to a shortage of rolling stock, but remain in use today.
The Northern Rail franchise covers a large swathe of the north, operating both commuter and some longer routes from the north-west of England across to the north-east of the country.
Its services also extend to the midland counties of Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, and Staffordshire.
The Trans-Pennine Express service runs regular inter-city services between major cities in the north of England as well as to the Scottish central belt area.
In 2013 the franchises carried more than 110 million passengers, connecting the key strategic cities of Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle, and onwards to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The franchises to run the two northern routes are going through their renewal process, with the winning bidders being announced by October 2015.
It had been thought there might also be some announcement from Mr Osborne on rail fares during the Autumn Statement, but there was no new development.
In September, it had been announced that regulated fares in England, which include season tickets and “anytime” singles, would rise by a maximum of 2.5% from January.
That was the level of Retail Price Index (RPI) inflation this summer. Normally the fares increase cap would be RPI plus 1%.
[Yorkshire Post version]
Pacer trains hated by Yorkshire commuters move closer to scrap heap
Yorkshire commuters were offered the hope of an end to the use of “buses on rails” in the Autumn Statement but train operators look set to have the final say.
The Chancellor told MPs that “replacing the ancient and unpopular pacer carriages with new and modern trains” would be part of the new northern and transpennine rail franchises due to come into force in 2016.
But the detailed Treasury documents released alongside the statement suggest the Government will only “encourage bidders to replace the outdated pacer trains” rather than make it a requirement of the companies awarded the franchises which cover the bulk of local services in the region.
It was also confirmed that in the coming days the Government will publish the results of a feasibility study looking at improving access to Leeds-Bradford Airport which has been criticised for many years.
The West Yorkshire Combined Authority – the body responsible for major transport projects in the area – has already been given £38m to fund a new road link but the study will look at the potential for a rail line.
James Lewis, chairman of the authority’s transport committee, said:
“I am pleased to see the Government supporting proposals for an access road to Leeds- Bradford International Airport, which is one of the proposed West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund projects, due to be delivered by 2021.
“We look forward to seeing the feasibility study report when it is published on Friday and working with the Department for Transport and Leeds-Bradford International Airport to take forward its findings.”
[Rochdale Observer version]
‘Scrap Pacers’ promise ignores reality of delay to process
The Chancellor has been keen to talk up the fact that he wants to create a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, with the proposed HS3 scheme being central to that plan. In addition, Mr Osborne said that he will replace ‘Pacer’ trains under new franchises, but ignored the fact that this process has stalled.
This week it was reported by ‘Modern Railways’ that the tendering process for Trans-Pennine and Northern Rail franchises may be delayed because of uncertainties regarding the current ‘Northern Hub’ and Trans-Pennine electrification programmes. According to ‘industry sources’, the invitation to tender documents, which were due to be published this year are likely to be delayed because there is an: “Inability of Network Rail to deliver a firm timetable for the completion of electrification work in the North West and slippage in the Northern Hub programme.”
Modern Railways also state that:
“According to a senior insider, it’s an utter farce that at the moment so much is unknown.”
“In the midst of the confusion, the Department for Transport has even asked bidders what they suggest it should do.”
Despite the northern electrification project starting a year ago, there has never been a published budget, and back in June, Clare Moriarty, Director General, Rail Executive, Department for Transport told the Transport Select Committee:
“At the stage when the schemes were listed out, a number of schemes—northern electrification may be one of them—were at quite an early stage, when it was not possible to say absolutely definitively what they would cost.”
Following this, Paul Plummer, Rail Delivery Group member, and Group Strategy Director, Network Rail was asked if the project would happen and replied:
“I cannot give you that absolutely categorical confirmation. I can say that, within Network Rail, everybody working on all of these projects is working on the basis that they will be continuing and will be delivered, and that is absolutely clear.”
Following the Autumn Statement, Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin commented:
“It’s all well and good for George Osborne to talk about a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, HS3 and new trains, but the reality is that the timescale and the budget for current rail projects have slipped. The Chancellor can talk about replacing the ‘Pacer’ trains all he likes, but the reality is the new franchises are being delayed because the infrastructure is late and over-budget. He has to come clean on this and admit what the situation actually is, but he hasn’t done that because the fact current projects are overdue and over-spent will only damage the HS2 vanity project, and demonstrate that the eye-watering £50bn price for that will only go up too.”
“Everyone knows that Government projects come in late and over-budget, and it is clear that local transport projects are the ones which deliver the greatest benefits to communities, so the way forward is clear; do not gamble £50bn on a white elephant no-one needs, but instead make sure that the local projects which will alleviate crush-hour conditions actually go ahead.”
Penny Gaines, chairwoman of Stop HS2 added:
“Whatever the case for better East – West links in the north of England, it’s clear that George Osborne has already decided what the solution will look like. By insisting it should be High Speed 3, Osborne shows he has made up his mind: it’s going to prioritise speed over the real needs of ordinary people.”