Rail passengers across the north who have been promised improved services will have to put up with travelling in 1980s Pacer trains until 2020 under Government rail franchise plans.
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.
No significant improvements in journey time, frequency or new services
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.
The Gazette revealed on Saturday Government pledges that towns and cities across the north, including Blackpool and the Fylde coast, would reap the benefits of the upgraded services being ordered as part of the new franchise agreements for Northern and First Transpennine.
Mr McLoughlin and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the requirements successful bidders for the new franchises, which will begin in 2016, 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”.
And campaigners on the Fylde coast also questioned the promises, and said it would be many years before old rail stock is replaced with the promised new 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 the north.
Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Hull, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as Manchester Airport.