NW rail stock is old and needs replacing

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TRAINS carrying thousands of passengers on lines through Wigan have been criticised by the rail regulator as out of date and having question marks over their long-term safety.

The diesel-engined Class 142 trains, also known as Pacers, are some of the oldest in the country and consist of a bus body placed on top of a freight wagon chassis.

Pacers are a common sight on the railways around Wigan and are regularly in use on the Southport to Manchester Airport route passing through Wigan Wallgate.

The Office for Rail Regulation (ORR) said there was no evidence that Pacer trains were unsafe, but they would require extra maintenance in the future if they were to remain railworthy.

Northern Rail owns more than 70 per cent of the country’s entire stock of Pacers. They have attracted widespread passenger criticism for the quality of their ride, caused by having only single axles at each end of the carriage, and uncomfortable seating.

Peter Garvey, publicity officer for the Greater Manchester Transport Campaign, an organisation which campaigns on behalf of passengers, said: “Compared to the rail stock in use down in the south of England, we are definitely the poor relation here. However, I came back through Wigan last week and that was on a slightly more modern train that Northern have just bought from the West Midlands, so that’s better news for passengers.

“Also, the recent engineering works on the Atherton line have helped the ride too. It used to be shockingly bumpy on the old jointed tracks, but now it’s continuously welded it’s made a massive difference, as the Pacers don’t run too badly on new track.”

However, Mr Garvey said there remained questions over the safety of the Pacer trains.

Northern Rail said Pacers had an excellent safety record and they had carried out maintenance and renewal work to ensure none of the trains’ mechanicals was more than five years old.

Northern Rail Communications Manager Carolyn Watson said: “While the ORR is right to question the use of any train beyond its ‘intended design life’ this is still some way off for the Pacer fleet. The trains form a large part of our fleet and carry thousands of passengers safely to home, work and leisure opportunities every day.

“In the longer term Pacers, like any mechanical equipment or vehicle, will need to be replaced.

“As new trains will cost considerably more than Pacers the challenge for the industry will be how these would be funded.”