Rail passengers in the North West who have been promised improved services will have to put up with travelling in 1980s Pacer trains until 2020 under Government rail franchise plans announced today.
And even this phasing out in five years' time has been questioned on value-for-money grounds by the Department for Transport's permanent secretary Philip Rutnam.
Earlier this week Mr Rutnam wrote to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin saying there would be large costs involved in replacing the Pacers with new trains, as well as "relatively few benefits".
Mr Rutnam said that investing in new trains would bring "no significant improvements in journey time, frequency or new services".
But Mr McLoughlin wrote back ordering Mr Rutnam to proceed with approving the invitations to tender for the new Northern and TransPennine Express (TPE) franchises, whose terms include the 2020 replacement of the Pacers.
Mr McLoughlin said there were "wider issues to consider" and described the Pacers as uncomfortable and of low-quality.
Today, announcing the invitations to tender, Mr McLoughlin and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the requirements successful bidders will have to meet meant huge improvements for northern England train travellers.
They said there would be more services, more seats and improved facilities, with Mr Clegg describing it as "an historic moment for the North".
But rail unions dubbed the announcement "a pre-election stunt", with the RMT saying the plans would "condemn passengers to poor-quality, unsafe and de-staffed services".
The new nine-year Northern franchise starts on April 1 2016 and on the same day a new seven-year TPE franchise will start.
The Northern franchise operates local, commuter and rural services throughout the region, and a number of long-distance services linking major towns and cities such as Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, York, Manchester, Bradford, Preston and Blackpool.
The TransPeninne Express franchise provides longer-distance intercity-type services, connecting the major cities of Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Hull, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as Manchester Airport.
Companies shortlisted to run the new franchises were announced last August. Competing for Northern are Arriva, Govia and Northern, while on the shortlist for TPE are FirstGroup, Keolis/Go Ahead and Stagecoach.
Announcing promises that rail passengers in the north will get more seats, services and trains the Transport Secretary told Granada, "I can't be bothered with commenting on the RMT."
Patrick McLoughlin was responding to comments from rail unions that the plans are 'pie-in the-sky electioneering.'
"I thought the RMT would have welcomed it." He added, "all they seem to be able to do is to complain."
Northern and TransPennine franchises will be re-let next year, bidders will need to be able to introduce new trains and 200 new services.
Read the full story here.
"In reality these plans will condemn passengers to poor quality, unsafe and de-staffed services for years to come.
"The tender documents allow bidders to axe guards and move to driver-only operation, compromising safety in the interests of private profit.
"Any new trains are light years away with passengers forced to endure the misery of the clapped-out Pacers, and the ancient London Underground rolling stock that's heading North, way off into the future."
"This is all pie-in-the-sky electioneering by ministers who are using their taxpayer-funded posts to stage pre-election stunts at our expense.
"It cannot be coincidence that they are saying this in the North 10 weeks before Nick Clegg looks destined to lose his seat in Sheffield."
"They have had five years to do something about investing in rail in the North but have instead invested billions in the South. This is all too little, too late."
Rail passengers in northern England have been promised more seats, more services and new trains by the Government.Read the full story ›
The number of seats on trains in the North West is to increase by a third, under Government plans to reduce overcrowding on the region’s rail network. There will also be an extra 200 services every day across the Northern and Trans Pennine rail franchises.
The Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, will unveil the plans today on a visit to Victoria station in Manchester, which is currently undergoing a £44 million redevelopment programme. Mr McLauglin is calling for further investment in stations from companies interested in bidding for the new franchises.
Successful bidders will also be required to replace outdatedPacer trains on North West rail routes and accommodate more than 19,000 extra commuters in Manchester during the morning peak.
There's a warning fuel poverty could kill more than 15,000 people in the region over the next 15 years. National Energy Action (NEA) claim that nationally cold homes could kill 100,000 vulnerable people in that time frame. Their report 'A Manifesto for Warmth' says domestic energy consumers are being hit hard by Treasury energy taxes. The report states that according to the Government’s own national figures, there are currently 4.5 million households that are unable to adequately heat their homes across the UK.
NEA is calling for an adequate and additional funding stream to improve the energy efficiency of 2 million low-income homes by 2020 and end what it claims is the "suffering caused by fuel poverty" within 10 years.’
The North West needs to build more than 8 thousands affordable homes to keep up with demand according to new figures. The National Housing Federation claims building them would boost the region's economy by £300m as well as create thousands of jobs. Last year 2,060 were built in our region.
The NHF say Greater Manchester would benefit from an annual cash injection of £156 million if enough affordable homes were built to meet local demand. Building more affordable homes here would support 3,352 jobs by creating new employment opportunities and also keeping people in work - these could be in newly boosted local businesses or housing associations themselves.
Homes needed: 4,047
Estimated contribution to the economy: £155,674,989
Estimated full time jobs created: 3,352
Cheshire and Warrington
Liverpool City Region
Almost one in five shops in our region are empty according to new figures. That compares with with just one in ten in the south according to the Local Data Company. The North West has been the worst since 2008 but was this year edged out by the North East.
The top 10 worst town centres for vacant retail contain four from the North West:
- Droylsden 26.8% vacancies
- West End, Morecambe 26.8%
- Bootle 26.4%
- Stockport 25.9%
At a regional level the polarisation between the North and the South is as wide as ever with London’s vacancy rate being less than half that of the northern regions. Of the top 10 highest vacancy towns in the country all are in the North, West Midlands or Wales. Whilst we have seen an improvement from the peak in 2012 when these towns had one in three shops empty, these towns all have vacancy rates above 25% which is still one in four shops lying empty and no sign of improvement.
A number of schools have closed across the North West due to the poor weather. Get the details here.Read the full story ›