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Railways: Pacer Trains

Volume 757: debated on Tuesday 9 December 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the Autumn Statement, what is the timetable for the replacement of Pacer trains in the north of England; whether all the replacement trains will be new; and whether Pacers in other regions will also be replaced.

My Lords, I reaffirm the commitment made in the Autumn Statement. The details of how we will give effect to these issues are being considered as part of the development of the invitation to tender for the Northern franchise, which will be published early in 2015. Decisions on the possible replacement of Pacers elsewhere will be considered when the respective franchising competitions—for Great Western and for Wales and Borders—are being specified.

My Lords, I am grateful for that confirmation by my noble friend. Will she confirm that, when the Chancellor said that the franchise in the north would involve,

“replacing the ancient and unpopular Pacer carriages with new and modern trains”,—[Official Report, Commons, 3/12/14; col. 313.]

that means that at least some of the trains will be new? Is that a promise? While she is about it, will she take this opportunity to scotch the alarming rumours that the 30 year-old Pacer trains will be replaced by 40 year -old cast-offs from the District line on the London Underground?

I have to say to my noble friend that that last accusation is a new one to me. Clearly, the Chancellor gave a commitment to replace these trains. We also know that this is a line that is due for electrification. However, I am afraid I cannot share the details with the House until we get to the invitation to tender, because they are still being worked out. It will not be very long to wait; it will be in early 2015.

My Lords, while all this is going on, the Government are doing the opposite and giving even more trains to the south. Indeed, today the Minister for Transport, Claire Perry, announced that there would be 10 new four-car trains to take people between Milton Keynes and London. Last week, I believe, new diesel trains were ordered and committed to go to Uckfield and between Ashford and Hastings. Is it not time that this trend was reversed and that the new diesels went to the Northern area? Perhaps the people of Sussex and Kent could try out some Pacers for a few years and see how they get on.

My Lords, we are obviously anxious to phase out these Pacers rather than find them new homes. The noble Lord will be aware that we have orders from up and down the country for new rolling stock at significant levels; that includes the north—for example, on the east coast main line. An invitation to tender is coming very shortly in the new year. I cannot speak ahead of it, but I am reasonably confident that my noble friend will be happy.

Does my noble friend accept that we in the east of England are extremely pleased that we have just had our first new trains since the beginning of time? Never before has anyone produced a new train for the east of England. Some people may rightly say, “Ah, but this is one of the most important scientific powerhouses of Britain”. Let us thank her and say that it would not have happened had it not been for privatisation.

The railway has certainly been exceedingly successful since its privatisation, and that is reflected in the increased number of passengers. I am delighted at the drive that we have under way to bring on the kind of rolling stock that adds the capacity that we need.

My Lords, I am sorry that the Minister had not heard that Transport for London is looking at the possibility that certain rolling stock, driven by electricity at the present time, can be converted to diesel. That is why the north of England is shuddering at the prospect that that is where these trains might well end up. After the Chancellor made his Statement, the first thing that the Government did was to delay the decision on the franchise for the north. That is a clear case of built-in delay to get rid of these wretched Pacers, when Northern travellers have among the worst conditions in the whole of the United Kingdom. Is it not clear that the only certain way in which Northern passengers will get taken for a ride is by the Treasury and the Chancellor?

My Lords, your Lordships will be aware that this is a pretty small delay. You will also be aware that there was a great response to the consultation for this line. It was entirely right of the Government to take the time necessary to work through a lot of very thoughtful responses and to make sure that the invitation to tender achieves the best possible outcome for passengers.

My Lords, will the Minister take notice of what has been happening in Scotland? When the new franchise was introduced, 30 new train sets were ordered immediately on that day from Hitachi. If she looks at the terms and conditions, she will see that these trains have been leased with the support of the Scottish Government—which is not what usually happens here—and they have done an extremely good deal, far better than has been achieved by Whitehall. Is it not the case that local control, be it in Scotland or London, produces far better results than are now produced in Whitehall?

My Lords, this Government are very committed to devolution. The noble Lord will know that, with the Northern and TransPennine franchises, we have been working very closely with Rail North so that it creates a process by which a transfer can be made to Rail North to become, as it were, the specifier and monitor of franchises over time. However, it is a capability that is extremely demanding, as the noble Lord will know, and the evolutionary process of doing this hand in hand with areas that are interested in taking this responsibility to make sure that they develop the capability has to be the right way to go.