MPs in uproar over FTPE-Chiltern rolling stock transfer
Northern MPs have criticised the Department for Transport (DfT) over its handling of a TransPennine rolling stock transfer – claiming it will have “negative consequences” for the north of England’s rail network.
Angela Smith, MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, raised the issue at a debate in Parliament yesterday, explaining how last monthPorterbrookagreed to transfer nine Class 170s from TransPennine to Chiltern Railways, to be used on the new Oxford-London services. She said the “north would suffer” once again, because of a series of “terrible decisions made by the DfT”.
At the debate in Westminster Hall, Diana Johnson, MP for Kingston upon Hull North, added that if the government was serious about securing the rebalancing of the economy and ensuring that the regions get the investment they need, “why is our train service not very good and likely to get even worse with the plans afoot to move the rolling stock to other parts of the country?”
She said her constituency is only serviced by one trainfrom Hull to Leeds and Manchester per hour; the line is poor, so the maximum speed is 50 mph; and there are problems with outdated signalling, so no trains can run after 10pm .
Southport MP John Pugh added that rolling stock is not just a TransPennine issue; it is a quality issue in many areas, “because, frankly, the quality is dire”.
He explained: “I have had a longstanding campaign against the Class 142s [Pacers], which are essentially Leyland buses on wheels. They were originally produced by Mrs Thatcher, almost as an emergency motion to keep Leyland Motors going.
“Most of them still running are on the Northern Rail franchise, although not all – some are on Arriva in the Welsh valleys. Those trains are not the oldest stock in the northern area – the oldest are the refurbished Merseyrail trains – but they are certainly the most uncomfortable and the most outmoded and they are not disability-compliant. They are probably not safe in either a collision or a derailment, and they certainly deter business passengers.”
In response to the criticism, transport minister Stephen Hammond MP said the government is investing in the north of England. He said: “The issue with the TransPennine rolling stock relates to nine Class 170 trains, which comprise 18 rail vehicles – not a higher number.The lease for those trains expires in 2015, which is the end of the current franchise.
“As is usual in the commercial rolling stock market, the lease was offered from that point. The opportunity was taken up by Chiltern Railways, which agreed a new lease earlier this year.”
He added that the DfT knew about the decision in October 2013 and the secretary of state saw a lease in February “the Department was aware of the lease, but we cannot unreasonably withhold consent for it, so it was given”.
However, discussions are now taking place between Chiltern Railways and First TransPennine Express to allow the ongoing TransPennine franchise to retain the trains until May 2015.
“That will allow more time for a solution to be found. Discussions are taking place about how many of those trains Chiltern will need in 2015, and an opportunity will exist for TransPennine to retain some of the units until March 2016,” he added.
“Commercial negotiations are taking place between the Department, Chiltern and others in the industry that will allow medium and long-term solutions to be found.”
With regards to the quality of the Pacer stock, the issue raised by Pugh, Hammond added that the DfT expects bidders, in the forthcoming franchise competitions for Northern and TransPennine Express, to put forward proposals for the “removal of Pacers from the area”.
Nick Donovan, First TransPennine Express' managing director, said: “We can confirm we have no contractual rights to the Class 170s beyond our current franchise and we believe they have recently been offered by leasing company Porterbrook to another train operator for use after the end of our franchise term on 1 April 2015.
“We are in negotiations with the Department for Transport to agree operating until February 2016, which is the anticipated start date of a new longer term rail franchise. The exact details about the terms of this ten month agreement are being worked out.
“Following the announcement that the Class 170 trains we use will be transferred to another operator when our current franchise ends, one of the subjects that will be addressed by these negotiations is rolling stock capacity in order to maintain the significant capacity and timetable improvements that we will bring in from May this year.”
There is more discussion of the transfer here, where one commenter says: “I understand that the reason (from someone who works in DfT I hasten to add) the 170s are going to Chiltern is because with the state of the franchising at the moment, DfT would not confirm they'd be funding the 170s in the new franchise (post-2015) as they hadn't set the terms or the subsidy for the new franchise, and so couldn't extend the lease – in swoop Chiltern, who confirm the lease with the ROSCO at the end of the current TPE franchise.”
(Image: Alvey& Towers)
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