Rush to privatise East Coast means no new train for region

MPs accuse Department for Transport of blundering in franchise deals leading to failures on outdated and crowded Northern trains

An East Coast train at Newcastle Central Station
An East Coast train at Newcastle Central Station

A damning list of North rail failures has been put to the Government.

MPs have accused the Department for Transport of overseeing years of neglect and of “blundering” its way into years more of service failures on crowded and outdated Northern trains.

Ministers were told it was disgraceful that they were planning to take 170 modern trains from across the entire North of England and send them south, serving constituencies such as the prime minister’s.

Shadow deputy leader of the House Angela Smith said the loss of stock on the North’s First Transpennine Express service came as result of officials pushing back its franchise renewal while they “rushed” into the sale of mainline services.

And the Government was forced to admit it will try and phase out the unloved Pacer trains, used by Northern rail on the Hexham to Newcastle line, as soon as possible in the next franchise. Speaking in parliamentary debate, the MP said: “It is becoming obvious where the Government’s priority lies when it comes to rail lines, and the priority is not with passengers in the north of England.

“As their ill-fated, illogical and shambolic franchising policy goes off the rails, it is the north of England that suffers.

“We are witnessing a situation in which the huge blunder that was west coast franchising has led to a comedy of errors, with the consequences landing squarely in the lap of the north of England and its railway services.”

She added: “We in the North be­­lieve we need efficient, well-run railways with modern trains providing the capacity a growing network needs. We need those trains so our economy can compete with the South – we all know how big that challenge is – if we are to close the North-South gap. On the Northern franchise, however, the average age of the fleet is 2, which compares with a national average of 18 years.

“Many routes are still served by the Pacer railbuses, which make up about a quarter of the fleet. I will not name my source, but I was approached several years ago by someone who asked whether the Pacer trains might have a future in the new country of Kosovo, but the trains may still be required on those Northern Rail services if the Government do not get their finger out.”

Ms Smith was backed by Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who said: “We need to highlight the point about the differentiation in investment in different parts of the country.

“At a presentation last week to the all-party group on rail in the North, Network Rail outlined its plans for investment, including in the Northern hub.

“However, the only reference to the North East of England were signs on the map saying, York, and, To Scotland. The North East of England was not an afterthought – it was not even a thought.”

Junior transport minister Stephen Hammond said discussions were ongoing to try and let the North keep the modern trains until May 2015.

The minister added: “Pacer trains that were introduced in the mid-1980s and have rightly received their fair share of attention.

“With the introduction of new rolling stock into the region, higher quality rolling stock will be released for use across the network.

“We expect to ask bidders for the Northern franchise to put forward proposals for the removal of Pacers from the area.”

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