Fylde rail campaigners have welcomed calls from deputy prime minister Nick Clegg to abolish outdated “cattle trucks” currently in use on Fylde’s railway lines.
Mr Clegg has asked for government cash to pay for immediate improvements aimed at ridding the north of the dreaded “Pacer” train.
But while local campaigners have welcomed his words they remain sceptical that any long-term changes will happen soon. In his speech to Northern Futures, Mr Clegg called for improved rolling stock on non-electrified commuter lines, such as the Blackpool North and South Fylde lines, by 2025.
He complained: “There are thousands boarding these so-called ‘pacer’ trains.
“There is nothing pacy about them at all.
“They are cattle trucks on wheels.”
Paul Nettleton, chairman of the Blackpool and Fylde Rail Users’ Association said: “Pacer trains are in use a lot in this area and they date back to the 1980s when the government retired old trains and replaced them with a new cheaper design.
“The Pacer is a wagon chassis with a bus body and as such is very lightweight.
“For short journeys they are fine, but if you are travelling from Blackpool North to Manchester Victoria for example, which takes an hour and twenty minutes, the noise levels aren’t good and the seats are uncomfortable.
“The toilets aren’t fitted with waste tanks so waste is discharged straight on to the tracks.
“Ultimately, these trains are 30 years old and they need replacing.
“To be fair, the use of these trains has saved a lot of branch lines because they were cheaper but we have moved on.
“The government has encouraged rail use and we think the rolling stock is inadequate.
“During the summer at the weekends these carriages are like packed sardine cans and in certain conditions they are downright dangerous.
“While I do welcome Mr Clegg’s call, we are naturally sceptical of course that anything will happen anytime soon.”
Plans to improve transport between main northern city regions such as Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds have recently been put in the spotlight by a new body called Transport for the North, which will work with the UK government to produce a strategy for the region.
Speaking to a summit of Northern business leaders, Mr Clegg said: “Ancient rolling stock and lines that have not been upgraded in 30 years are not fit for a 21st century metropolis.
“Decrepit trains such as the Pacers, which are literally ancient buses on rails, are not a fair way for people in the North to get to and from work.
“They would not be deemed acceptable on London commuter lines, and they are not acceptable in the North.
He went on: “London and the South East has had billions of transport investment over recent years from HS1 to Crossrail to the Northern Line extension.
“The perfectly reasonable requests I have been hearing are basics that are needed if we are to create a true economic hub in the north of England.
“The North needs improved transport now. The roads and railway lines connecting our great northern cities have seen improvements in recent years, but I want more. Much more.
“As we negotiate over what gets government funding in the Autumn Statement, one of my key priorities will be to change that.
“We need to get this started as soon as possible.”
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden is shadow transport secretary and greeted the speech with deep scepticsm:
He said: “Where has Mr Clegg been for the past four years?
“It is rank hypocrisy from someone who has been deputy prime minister.
“This government has failed to do anything about Pacer trains.
“The previous transport secretary Stephen Hammond said they would be phased out but companies bidding for franchises today can still propose to use them.
“Mr Clegg has known about this for four years and he’s done nothing - why has he suddenly taken it up?
“I think the most practical thing I could recommend is for Mr Clegg to lobby his cabinet colleagues to not award any future rail franchise to a bidder that is planning to use Pacer trains.
“In my submission to the TransPennine consultation one of the things I called for is the removal of the option for whoever won the franchise to use refurbished Pacers.”
Fylde MP Mark Menzies said: “I have been campaigning hard for improvements to the South Fylde line for a number of years now and recently had a productive meeting with the Transport Secretary to discuss those issues.
“The things I want to see improved include new rolling stock, better facilities at stations along the route, more regular services and more convenient timetables.
“As recently as last week I asked the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership to look at improvements to the line as part of its next application for Growth Deal funding as I believe it could be a key driver in our local economy, particularly if Blackpool Airport becomes an Enterprise Zone with more businesses moving onto that site alongside Blackpool South Station.
“We were recently successful in reinstating a new Blackpool North to London link, which will stop at Kirkham and Wesham Station, and improvements to the South Fylde Line could see the connectivity of the Fylde coast meet the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s ambition of creating a northern powerhouse; an area which could once again become the engine which drives Britain’s economy.”
Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph said: “The Deputy Prime Minister has added his voice to the welcome consensus that the North’s rail infrastructure is overdue significant investment.
“The Government needs to use both the Autumn Statement and the refranchising of the North’s rail network to show it means business.
“That means upgrading services not just between Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester, but right across the North. We’ll also be looking for an expanded programme of electrification and a firm timetable for getting rid of all the ageing Pacer trains.”