Passenger debut for ‘195s’ and ‘331s’, but Pacers likely to stay until next Easter
NORTHERN INTRODUCED nine of its 101 new trains on order from CAF into passenger service from Monday 1 July.
The operator is receiving a £500 million fleet of Class 195 DMUs and Class 331 EMUs from the Spanish manufacturer, financed by Eversholt Rail. Seven ‘195s’ were introduced on services between Liverpool and Manchester Airport and between Barrow/Windermere and Manchester Airport, while a pair of ‘331s’ began operating stopping services between Doncaster and Leeds. Each of the new trains features free Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, at-seat power and customer information/media screens with real-time information.
They are also more spacious and are fully accessible with spaces for wheelchairs and cycles.CAF has built the trains at its factory in Spain, with some ‘195s’ also assembled at its Newport plant in south Wales. The total order comprises 58 Class 195s (25x2-car and 33x3-car) and 43 Class 331s (31x3-car and 12x4-car).
The first of the new trains to operate a passenger service was No 195116, which worked the 04.53 Barrow-in-Furness to Manchester Airport. Sharing duties on the first day were Nos 195117, 195118 and 195121 on services between Manchester Airport and both Windermere and Barrow-in-Furness whilst Nos 195102, 195119 and 195120 were operating on fast trains between the Airport and Liverpool Lime Street. Class 331 EMUs Nos 331106 and 331110 were in use on the first day between Leeds and Doncaster.
Passengers travelling on the new sets gave a generally favourable reaction, although issues through the first week with the air conditioning resulted in some uncomfortably warm vehicles, and problems with doors saw some closing on passengers as they were boarding and others refusing to open. Some of these difficulties saw sets held at stops for long periods, affecting overall punctuality, but early teething problems have been seen across the years on many new fleets. Driver and crew familiarity is expected to lead to improved performance as the fleet is rolled out.
Northern says the rest of the fleet will be rolled out at monthly intervals through 2019 and into 2020s. Next areas which should see operation of the new fleets include York – Blackpool, South Yorkshire and Chester (for the Class 195s) and Liverpool – Blackpool North (Class 331s). Whilst deliveries of new sets are speeding up, it will be difficult to expand the driver training programme and with each driver needing seven or eight days to train on the new units this will continue to restrict the rollout of both classes.
PACERS TO CONTINUE INTO 2020
The introduction of the new trains is set to allow Northern to begin withdrawing its Pacer fleets during August; the operator has 79 Class 142s and 23 Class 144s. However, with other diesel units out of service for refurbishment and ‘digital’ improvements such as fitment of Wi-Fi, cover will be required for as long as possible.
Northern is working towards the introduction of the majority of the new CAF trains by the end of 2019 but it seems likely a small number of Pacers will have to remain in service into 2020, beyond the deadline for compliance with PRM-TSI (Persons with Reduced Mobility Technical Specification for Interoperability) regulations at midnight on 31 December 2019. Whilst Northern is cautious about confirming a date for the withdrawal of the final Pacers, current discussions are looking at ‘around Easter’ for their final farewell.
Whilst the Department for Transport will be required to issue a derogation to allow the Pacers to stay into next year, Northern has already briefed local politicians about how it will seek to minimise the impact on passengers, with the Pacers being concentrated in a small area and based at one depot. It is expected they will be deployed on routes where other services are available and where additional support for passengers with accessibility issues can be provided on a temporary basis.
ARRIVA DISMISSES NORTHERN SPECULATION
Speculation continues over the future of the Arriva Rail North franchise, with industry insiders reporting that financial difficulties could see the Government taking the franchise back under the control of the Operator of Last Resort. However, Modern Railways understands Arriva is determined not to hand back the franchise, which is due to run until April 2025 with the option of a one-year extension.
Questioned about these rumours, a spokesperson for Arriva Rail North told Modern Railways: ‘Arriva remains committed to delivering the transformational plan for customers and the North. The North deserves the best possible rail service and we are working hard to improve performance and reliability for our customers.
‘Northern has faced unprecedented challenges during the past two years, particularly the unacceptable disruption following the May 2018 timetable change, which is well documented. This was caused by delays to, and late delivery of, infrastructure projects which were outside of our control. We have apologised to our customers for the pain caused last year and have since delivered two successful timetable changes which introduced many more new services and, crucially, significantly improved performance.
‘Since the start of the franchise, we have made a large number of other improvements. We are investing heavily in new and refurbished trains, have introduced more than 2,000 extra services each week and hundreds more people have been employed to help customers. These improvements are delivering significant benefits but are still a work in progress.
Underpinning all this is an absolute focus on safety for customers and staff. We are investing heavily in staff training and upgrading our trains and stations.’ Tony Miles