A GOVERNMENT minister has admitted that it might not be possible for Northern to withdraw all its Pacer fleet by the end of the year.
From 1 January 2020 the Pacers will no longer comply with regulations concerning accessibility and the discharge of toilet waste on the track, and are being replaced by new or refurbished units of other types.
Until now, the withdrawal deadline of 31 December has been maintained as official policy.
Less than a week ago, rail minister Andrew Jones replied to a question from Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves that ‘the first Pacers are due to be withdrawn from service in August and operators are working to remove all of them by the end of the year. No application for dispensations with regard to rail vehicle accessibility standards in respect of the Pacers operated by Northern has been submitted to the Department to date.’
Since then, there appear to have been some developments behind the scenes. In the House of Lords yesterday, Lord Scriven asked ’why it will not be possible to complete the removal of Pacer trains from the Northern rail network by 31 December’.
Transport minister Baroness Vere replied: ‘Northern Rail is planning to remove the first Pacer in August, and is working to remove all of the Pacers by the end of the year. Due to delays in manufacturing of new trains, a small number of Pacers may continue on the network into the beginning of the new year to ensure a stable service for passengers.’
This relevation poses further questions about the legality of keeping Pacers in service in 2020, unless a temporary derogation from the new regulations is granted.
Two days after Andrew Jones had given his assurance in the House of Commons, he launched a new competition at Bolton station, in which community groups were invited to suggest new uses for Pacer bodies once they had ceased to be trains.
An early response came from children attending St Catherine’s Primary School in Bolton, and one nine-year old suggested that a Pacer could be converted ‘into a greenhouse to grow vegetables’.