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North West passengers won't get new trains for 5 years

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.

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Transport Secretary 'can't be bothered commenting on unions'

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.

Unions condemn new rail plans

"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."

– Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT

Rail plans are 'pie-in-the-sky' says union

"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."

– Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union

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More trains for North West

Outdated trains will be replaced under Government plans Credit: ITV Granada

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.

Redevelopment plans for Manchester Victoria Station Credit: Network Rail

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.

Travel - M56, Cheshire

In Cheshire there are reports that the M56 Eastbound lane is blocked on the exit slip road due to an accident at Junction 9 on the M6 (Lymm Interchange). That is said to be affecting traffic heading from the M56 onto the M6 towards the Thelwall Viaduct

Ideas wanted for Lancashire landmark

A competition has been launched to find designs for the redevelopment of Preston's famous bus station. Lancashire County Council wants to create a new youth zone and public space on the site.

The bus station was granted Grade II listed status in 2013 Credit: Lancashire County Council

The plans will lead to an investment of around £13m while always seeking to preserve the building's Grade II listed architecture.

It's important that we protect the integrity of this listed building, while creating an exciting new facility for generations of our young people."

– Jennifer Mein, Leader, Lancashire County Council

Drivers warned about motorway closure at airport

Credit: pa

Drivers heading for Manchester Airport are being urged to leave extra time for journeys when the M56 is closed for the whole weekend at the end of February. The Highways Agency says a new bridge is being installed between junction 6 at Hale and junction 5 at Manchester Airport. It means the total closure of the motorway in both directions between these junctions between 10pm on Friday 27 February and 5am on Monday 2 March.

“It is vital for everyone to understand you should only be using this part of the M56 over this particular weekend if you are travelling to the airport – and you should leave extra time to get to the airport to make your flight.

– Mark Mosley, Highways Agency
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