Will rolling stock shortage derail franchise extension?
The decision by rolling stock company Porterbrook to transfer nine diesel train sets from First TransPennine Express (TPE) to Chiltern Railways from April 2015 has provoked much anger in the North, as well as debates in Parliament and calls for government intervention.
The nine class 170 ‘Turbostar’diesel multiple units will come off lease on 1 April 2015, when First’s franchise was originally due to expire. However, the DfT is negotiating with the company and wants to extend it (again) to February 2016 – to make it coincide with the expiry of the adjoining Northern franchise – but it has still to finalise arrangements for rolling stock provision during this ten month ‘gap’ period.
In the worst case scenario, the TOC could be awarded an extension but not have enough trains to run the service.
Matt Hay, First TPE Media Manager summed up the predicament: “The DfT have indicated that they would prefer us to keep operating until Feb 2016. As yet, we are in early stage discussions with the Department but nothing has been agreed or signed. All our contracts (including building leases as well as rolling stock) expire on 1 April 2015. Until we have a signed agreement for a franchise extension, we cannot negotiate other contracts, but any extensions discussions we have with the DfT will involve rolling stock provision. But we have no idea when the decision will be.”
First TPE also leases 51 class 185 ‘Desiro’ dmus (from Eversholt), and 10 class 350/4 ‘Desiro’ emus (from Angel), which are still being delivered. It is not known how they will be affected at this stage.
The class 170s are currently deployed between Manchester –Hull and Manchester –Cleethorpes. Hay told LTT: “the 10 class 350s used on the newly-electrified Manchester-Scotland route should allow seven class 185s to be redeployed across our network, including routes that are currently worked by class 170s”. He said the 170 release should not affect the 30% capacity expansion planned in the May 2014 timetable.
Rail Minister, Stephen Hammond, has rejected calls for government intervention, and responded to other criticisms: “The DfT expects train operators and rolling stock companies ultimately to resolve the situation; As for Section 54 notices (1993 Railways Act) being used, I would say that these only guarantee the lease price, not that the lessee will not move the vehicles elsewhere. Also, it is not contractually secure to transfer leases from one tenant franchise to another.”
Regarding the long overdue replacement of 1980s ‘Pacer’ trains, Hammond also added: “In the forthcoming franchise competitions for the Northern and TransPennine Express, the DfT does not intend to specify the type of trains to be used; However, we expect to ask bidders for the Northern franchise to put forward proposals for the removal of ‘Pacers’ from the area.”