Pacers on the way out

Patrick McLoughlin, Secretary of State for Transport, has overruled his chief DfT Accounting Officer and authorised him to make the replacement of all the ageing ‘Pacer’ units a mandatory requirement for the new Northern passenger rail franchise.

The invitation to tender (ITT) now includes a requirement to build ‘at least’ 120 new vehicles.  The three short listed bidders – Abellio, Arriva and Govia have until 26 June to respond.

Referring to the much unloved ‘Pacer’ trains, McLoughlin said: “I do not consider that the continued use of these uncomfortable and low quality vehicles is compatible with our vision of economic growth and prosperity in the north. I believe that it is right for us to require builders to introduce new build diesel vehicles. The railways need a long term solution that will secure the continued provision of services on lines that are never likely to be electrified, and I note the latest forecasts predict a shortfall in diesel vehicles in the coming decades.”

Cynics might also add that a general election is only two months away.

The government has also fleshed out more details in the joint DfT/Rail North, Transforming the North’s Railways document, its response to last year’s consultation process.

McLoughlin’s decision, however, contravened advice from DfT Accounting Officer, Philip Rutnam, who maintained:

“There are two reasons why I am seeking a written direction in relation to this proposal. The first is that the assessment of the business case we have undertaken suggests it is poor value for money. In particular, the analysis gives an estimated benefit to cost ratio (BCR) for the proposal of 0.35 if we take a 30 year view, or only 0.12 if over the life of the franchise. The fundamental reason for the poor BCR is that there will be large costs from bringing forward that replacement to 2020 (new build vehicles will be much more expensive than Pacers), but will bring relatively few benefits (eg no significant improvements in journey time, frequency or new services.

“My second concern is that there may be better ways of achieving value for money. The ITT requirement to withdraw Pacers by 2020, and to introduce a minimum of 120 new build vehicles, significantly reduces flexibility for bidders. I should add that the extra cost of the proposal is likely to be just under £250m over the life of the franchise. Whether this is affordable or not depends on the outcome of the next Spending Review.”

Pacer replacement has grabbed the headlines but all other existing Northern stock – both diesel and electric – is to be modernised to ‘as new’ condition.

Other changes include transferring the some TPE (Trans Pennine Express) services to Northern when the new franchise starts in 2016, namely: Windermere to Oxenholme; Barrow-in-Furness to Manchester; and Blackpool to Manchester. The Cleethorpes/Grimsby to Barton-on-Humber  services will also be transferred from East Midlands Trains to Northern in 2017.

The new franchisee will be required to double the number of trains on many routes; there will be around 200 more trains on weekdays and Saturdays during peak and off-peak times; and nearly 300 additional trains will be run on Sundays.

£30m is to be spent on station improvements, and £13.8m has been set aside for passenger benefits under the CCIF (Customer & Communities Improvement Fund).

The current Northern franchise is held by Abellio: Serco, a 50:50 joint venture outfit.  The new nine year franchise will start on 1 April 2016 and comes with a one year extension.

667/Mar 15






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