Rail campaigners say they are shocked to hear that ageing Fylde trains could be replaced by revamped rolling stock of a similar vintage.
After long pressing for the replacement of 30-year-old Pacer trains on the South Fylde line, officials of the local Community Rail Partnership are dismayed at the prospect of their place being taken by reconditioned London Underground trains when the new rail franchises come into effect next year.
Vivarail, a private company based in Warwickshire, is currently working on the conversion of old D78 tube trains which can be made available to rail operators for as little as a third of the price of brand new carriages.
It is in talks with two candidates bidding to run the South Fylde line from next year.
Formed in 2012 to produce a new type of rolling stock, Vivarail claims its D-Train is designed specifically for local rail services and would be an ideal solution to a shortage of rolling stock and describes the trains as “much more than London’s cast-offs”.
But Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, said: “In New York they are dumping clapped out subway trains in the sea. In Britain they are threatening to dump them on the railways of the north.
“They are being forced to consider replacing one lash-up with another by press-ganging 30-year-old London Underground stock into service, raising serious safety issues.”
Meanwhile, Lord Greaves, a peer based in Pendle at the other end of the Blackpool South to Colne line, has already made his objections known in the House of Lords and said: “It is a disgrace. The north of England is once again being fobbed off with second-hand and second-rate rolling stock from the south.
“The D78s are as old as the existing Pacer trains and the idea is to put diesel engines in them, which will be the same kind as they put in larger Transit vans.
“It is not an appealing prospect. They will have a maximum speed of 60mph, which will be less than the Pacers. I travel in these Tube trains on the District Line and they are rattle traps.
“Down south they are building 1,000 new units for Crossrail and Thameslink and there are 700 to 800 units being constructed for the Inter City Express.”
The Vivarail brochure adds: “Instead they offer a new concept in sustainable travel for local rail services, with a first-class engineering pedigree,” adds the firm’s promotional material, pointing out that the trains’ engines and generators, traction control systems, national rail safety systems, cab structure, gangways and lighting will all be new, with new or refurbished interior based on client requirements to with an upcycled corrosion free aluminium bodyshell and upcycled nearly-new bogies.”
But Coun Tony Ford, chairman of the South Fylde Line Community Rail Partnership, said: “I am worried that this could well be another ‘stop-gap’ short-term solution to the problem of ageing and outdated rolling stock that exists in the north west.
“Far too often, cast-offs from other parts of the rail network find their way onto our routes when the paying public deserve better.
“With the railway industry generally moving towards electric trains, the proposal to convert trains that already run on electricity back to to diesel to replace existing unsatisfactory diesel trains seems a backward step.
“Extending electrification to more routes such as the South Fylde Line would enable train operators to reduce the number of diesel-powered trains and provide travellers with more efficient, more reliable and quieter trains that create less pollution.
“While I am all in favour of recycling, I would be unhappy to see yet more old rolling stock which has already reached the of its life if it is being replaced being dumped on local routes.
“Passengers locally suffer the same percentage fare increase year on year and deserve better services and better trains.”
Vivarail spokesman Alice Gillman said: “We are proud of our green and British credentials and although the train bodies are old, once the refurbishment is done, they will be like new trains.
“Traffic on Britain’s regional rail routes is growing quickly, but suitable rolling stock is in short supply.
“Existing diesel trains are fully utilised, and many older vehicles no longer meet passengers’ aspirations. Network-wide electrification can be the solution in the long term, but this will take time – and more capacity and better comfort are needed now.
“Re-using the existing bodyshells and bogies mean the D-trains are immediately more carbon-friendly than building a train from scratch.
“But in addition their lighter frames and stop-start technology mean they use less fuel, again a distinct environmental advantage.
“We aren’t a large multi-national company – the D-trains are British designed and built, an excellent example of British ingenuity.
“It’s smart to re-use good quality parts rather than just building new for the sake of new, and then to invest in the things customers want today: wi-fi, comfy seats, plenty of luggage space.”
Northern Rail, which has operated the South Fylde Line for the past 10 years and is among the contenders to run the service when the new franchises come into effect next year, declined to comment on the prospect, saying that which trains were used from 2016 would be a decision for the next operator.
But the general principle of converting old carriages has come in for strong criticism from a rail union leader.
Roger Ducat, secretary of the Blackpool and Fylde Rail Users’ Association, said he could see the virtues of the refurbished vehicles.
“We understand that people will be disappointed to be assigned replacement rolling stock that they view as ‘cast-offs’, but it seems to be that we are not likely to receive anything better in a reasonable timescale,” he said.
“Any safety or other engineering concerns that exist regarding the specification of the refurbished vehicles can be addressed during the design stage, and the fact that they will be built by a British company is also something to be applauded.
“How they will perform at 70 mph is an interesting thought. Also, it shouldn’t be overlooked that this proposal will not address the other issues of the inadequate service frequency and onward connectivity at Preston, which are possibly more important to users than the type of rolling stock.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We are committed to improving services for passengers across the north.
“We recognise that Pacers fall short of passengers’ expectations, which is why we will be specifically requiring bidders for the next northern franchise to phase these outdated trains out.
“These bids must include improved rolling stock.
“The industry is best placed to tell us how more modern, better quality trains can be introduced.”
Invitations to tender are set to go out to interested operators for the local lines imminently with the new franchises, for which Northern is understood to be one of the candidates, set to come into effect from next February.
The prospect of the reconditioned trains is another blow after Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin backtracked over promises of the wholesale replacement of the unpopular Pacer trains with more modern rolling stock.
On a recent visit to Teesside he said: “There may be odd routes where they will still have a role but overall the Pacers have had their day, and they need to be replaced.”