Mayor pens angry letter to Northern Rail and TransPennine Express over pacer trains

Delays, cancellations and the persistence of Pacer trains on the region’s railways have sparked angry letters from a Teesside leader.

Friday, 20th December 2019, 3:24 pm
Updated Thursday, 26th December 2019, 11:27 am
File picture of a pacer train

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has written to both Northern Rail and TransPennine Express this week to share irritation over complaints passed to him about the network.

Pacers were supposed to leave Teesside for the final time on December 15 and phased out by the New Year at the latest.

But the metro mayor said he’d received gripes that the much-maligned trains were still working lines on Teesside – and demanded answers why.

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In his letter, Mr Houchen said: “I find this completely unacceptable.

“Could you please offer me an explanation as to why this has not happened?”

The performance of TransPennine Express services has also attracted criticism from the Conservative mayor.

Manchester services by the firm were extended to Redcar last Sunday (December 15).

But Mr Houchen was also angered by the “unacceptable provision” offered by the firm and noted recent performances had been “particularly bad” when it came to recent cancellations.

He added: “This has occurred despite assurances from you that appropriate planning had taken place, and despite running a reduced version of the new timetable at present.”

The letter conceded the short-term problem was down to drivers being trained up but the mayor hit out at the late running and cancelled services between Middlesbrough and Darlington.

Mr Houchen said: “This is causing major delay and inconvenience for Tees Valley passengers who deserve much, much better,.”

The missive stated an average of six trains per day had been cancelled by the firm between November 29 and December 9.

Labour’s view

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald has made no secret of his disdain for the existing railway network.

On the back of Mr Houchen’s letters, he hit out at the government for the problems faced on Teesside.

The Middlesbrough MP said: “The Tories promised that Pacers would have gone by now.

“Johnson’s Government is barely a week old and they have already broken their promises with the announcement that more clapped out trains will be running for longer.

“The TPE service continues to fail but sadly the Tories have no determination or plan to make the needed changes.

“The privatised, fractured fragmented, railway will continue to let down passengers but sooner or later even Ben Houchen’s Tories will have to look at bringing the railway back together.”

Sorry

TransPennine Express apologised for the trouble on the network.

Managing director Leo Goodwin said: “I am really sorry for the disruption to our customers journeys.

“I know what a busy time it is whether people are trying to get to work, trying to get home to see school plays, visiting loved ones or trying to go out and enjoy their Christmas parties.

“Due to a number of issues with crew training caused by the late delivery of some of our new trains, a maintenance backlog and some infrastructure issues we have had to implement a temporary timetable, cancelling a number of journeys along one of our routes.

“This has unfortunately made a number of other services a lot busier.

“We are working really hard to sort this for our customers and as we introduce more new trains we should see an improvement to people’s journeys.”

Northern responds

Pacers were introduced back in the 1980s and have become notorious for their lack of comfort.

A spokesman for Northern said 50 Pacers had been removed from the Northern network this week – but explained some were kept in reserve for “exceptional circumstances”.

He added: “In the North East there are no plans to operate Pacers on Northern services.

“We have, however, retained a small number of Pacers which may be used in exceptional circumstances to help to avoid cancelling services.”

He went on to say the firm had “delivered on its commitment” to increase the number of train services and operated 2,000 more services each week than at the start of the franchise.

And the Northern representative but blame at the feet on the rail infrastructure.

The spokesman added: “This means we will deliver 30% more “train miles” in 2019 than in 2016.

“By the end of the year almost 110 million journeys will have been made using Northern trains in 2019 – that’s a record for the North.

“And yet there has been no real increase in track capacity since 2016, which has led to more congested railways across the North.

“This congestion has taken its toll on punctuality.

“This year has also seen a number of extreme weather events – including unprecedented levels of flooding in September and November which have further impacted performance.

“Arriva and Northern remain fully committed to delivering the transformation of the North’s railways and improving customers’ experience.”