‘Sardine Special’ gets canned: Transport Secretary unveils plans to revamp northern rail

Plans to provide more seats, more services and a fleet of brand new trains throughout the North of England by 2020 have been revealed by Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin.

The minimum standards that all bidders for the new Northern and TransPennine Express rail franchises will be required to provide were set out in documents published by the Department for Transport this morning.

These include the replacement of all outdated pacer trains within the next five years, tackling of crowding by introducing additional carriages at peak times, investment in stations, and the accommodation of 19,000 more commuters during Manchester’s morning peak, along with the introduction of at least 120 new-build carriages, all fitted with free Wifi.

Speaking to MM, MP McLoughlin said: “This is a massive marker for the services in the Northern area. When they were issued in 2004, it was on a no-grow basis.

“This isn’t a no-grow basis. This is new trains replacing the pacers and it is also more services and more seats.”

The publication of the invitations to tender is the first step in what the Department of Transport hopes will be a complete transformation of train travel in the North, facilitating the creation of a ‘northern powerhouse’ for the UK economy.

When asked what the average commuter can expect to see, Mr McLoughlin said: “They can expect to see more services, better services, new trains, Wifi on the trains and coming into stations that are refurbished.

“Although we are spending a huge amount of money here at Manchester Victoria, there’s also 30 million pounds for other station improvements, not necessarily all the big stations, but some of the smaller stations along the lines as well.”

 Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “These old trains have been rattling across rails in the north for over 30 years; a constant source of complaint which have held the region back.

“Modernising rail in the north will encourage business, boost tourism and give commuters the journey they deserve; one that is fit for a 21st century metropolis.”

Councillor Andrew Fender, Chair of the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee, said: “Today marks the culmination of a great deal of hard work behind the scenes to secure the very best deal possible for passengers.

“This goes a long way towards delivering our ambitions – but, nevertheless, it still represents the minimum standard: we fully expect bidders to go above and beyond what’s requested.”            

However, for those who have campaigned long and hard for improvements to services in the Bolton area, in particular those into Manchester, the announcement may be met a little more sceptically.

David Crausby, Labour MP for Bolton North East, said: “Obviously I welcome any progress that is being made to rail networks in the North, and I am pleased to hear something is being done, but in Bolton we have had so many promises made which have not been fulfilled that I have become slightly cynical.”

With Bolton in particular playing host to two historically marginal seats in Bolton North East and Bolton West, both currently held by Labour, Mr Crausby also alluded to the convenient timing of this action being taken.

He said: “I am also mindful that we are getting close to a General Election. I would be more trustful of an announcement like this made shortly after an election than in the months before one.”

For full details and a list of bidders for the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises, click here.

Image courtesy of Department of Transport, with thanks.

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