Blackpool and the Fylde coast suffer from persistent operation of elderly recycled trains on services operated by franchise holder - Northern Rail: a company whose ownership interests include the Dutch national rail operator; a country where far far higher standards of rolling stock is required. Growing public criticism in this part of England over high fares, crowded carriages during peak periods, worn out dilapidated carriages on which commuters must travel with ever increasing charges - is now a headline issue ahead of the May Election.
Politicians of all parties are expressing concern on the way in which our part of the country finds itself at the butt end of a privatised railway market. No amount of fancy paint schemes over thirty year old plus rolling stock - and Edwardian era railway infrastructure (ie the stations) can disguise the way in which the travelling public (ie passengers not customers) are given short and very expensive thrift by a franchise holder.
Rubbing salt into rail operator tactics is news of smart new air conditioned rolling stock being made ready for operation in and around London, with consequent cascading outward of the trains they are replacing. London’s overground trains of thirty years vintage are now deemed suitable for the ‘Northern Powerhouse’; albeit with new branding paint job and reworked interiors to disguise their origins. Beware! It seems ‘Pacers Mark 2’ are about to arrive at a station near you.
In British Railway days, rolling stock of this vintage was deemed to be suitable only for ‘football excursions’, peak holiday traffic ; or as a very last resort in case of wartime or emergency. In the 21st Century the north of England has become a convenient and profitable market for elderly and frequently unreliable rolling stock; (toilets not working, bad lighting, grimy interiors and short trains on busy services). All of this would not be so hard to take if it were not for the fact that the taxpayer is shovelling subsidies to train operating companies year in and year out - whilst at the same time we are paying the highest fares per passenger mile (or is kilometre?) of any country in western Europe for the privilege.
The Northern Rail Franchise is up for re-bidding shortly and a timely warning has been issued by the Ministry of Transport that the era of the ‘Pacer’ units must come to an end . These elderly units cannot form part of any franchise bid going forward. However we may soon have to contend with these second hand ‘ Pacers Mark2’ on their way to the Fylde from London. Thirty years old and counting. It’s as if Blackpool Transport were to recycle thirty year old trams, put them in yet another consultancy designed colour scheme - and palm them off as ‘Progress’. Fortunately that can’t happen with the sale and dispersal of many of the former tram fleet to museums around the country - as well as those now conserved for display by the Trust - and those examples retained in Rigby Road Depot as ‘heritage trams’.
All aboard for Heritage trains.
Update: The North's rail network and the use of 'Pacers' has been a hot topic of late. Read more on The Gazette's website