Often disparaged as “buses on rails”, Pacers are among the oldest trains in the country, form a large proportion of the stock used on Yorkshire’s rails and are the bain of many commuters’ lives.
However, from December, the much-derided trains will begin to disappear from our railways and be replaced in the main by brand new vehicles which will be among the most modern trains in the UK and operated by Northern.
The journey bringing the new trains to the region has been a long and arduous one for Northern which will lease the state-of-the-art trains from rolling stock operating company Eversholt which has paid £490m for the trains.
The Yorkshire Post travelled to Zaragoza in Spain to see the first of the new trains prepare to come off the production line.
For rail aficionados, the 98 new trains are a mixture of electric unit Class 331s and diesel unit Class 195s, and are manufactured by international train giant CAF.
The units will are capable of reaching speeds of 100mph and feature free wifi, air conditioning, extra seats, wheelchair access, power sockets and more storage and form part of a new stock alongside fully-refurbished trains.
For Richard Allan, Northern’s customer & people experience director and deputy managing director, the new fleet is a personal milestone.
“When I stepped on board this train for the first time today it was real ‘wow moment’ and quite an emotional moment as well,” he said.
“The reason I say that is that I have been at the company for 11 years and we have tried very hard to bring in new trains and it did not work out for various reasons.
“So actually I never thought this day would happen.”
The first trains will be track tested in Britain by August and are expected to come into service by December this year.
The remainder of the new stock will be cascaded into service gradually over 2019 with the Pacers to be scrapped altogether by January 2020.
For Mr Allan, the new trains mark what he and his firm hope will be a turning point for passengers.
“Customers are going to see more services,” he said.
“Every train will be either brand new or at the very least fully refurbished. And that step change in quality from the oldest train fleet in Britain to one of the youngest ones, with nearly 100 brand new trains, is going to happen and will happen over the next 24 months.
“My message to customers is things are going to get better.”
With new stock Mr Allan hopes to cut down on delays owing to less requirement for frequent maintenance of older trains.
As he puts it “these trains are maintained by computer rather than a spanner” and Northern said it plans more than 2,000 extra services each week, with around 400 additional Sunday services.
This will include new direct journeys from Bradford to Wakefield, Sheffield, Nottingham, Liverpool and Hull; from Leeds to Chester and Bridlington; from Lincoln to Leeds; and from Manchester Airport to Bradford and Halifax.
Mr Allan pointed toward the effect that was seen after the electrification of the route between Manchester and Liverpool where journey growth increased by 12 per cent in six months and said that he hoped to see comparable boosts in passenger numbers when the new and refurbished trains move into service.
David Brown, managing director at Northern, said: “Our modernisation programme is gathering pace and the promises we made at the start of the franchise are really taking shape.”