Major plans to bring a new fleet of trains to the north have been revealed – but not everyone is impressed with the announcement.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin have announced bidders for the Northern and TransPennine franchises – both of which run services on the Fylde coast – will have to provide plans to replace ageing Pacer trains, introduce a modern fleet of trains and add 200 extra services a day across the north.
It comes just a day after Mr McLoughlin told The Gazette on Thursday that imminent plans to introduce older rolling stock on the Blackpool North line would provide a better service for passengers because they are bigger than the current carriages .
That is despite rail campaigners saying they are unreliable and provide a poor first impression for visitors to Blackpool.
And campaigners and transport leaders today branded this latest announcement for brand new trains which would replace those Pacers “electioneering” and “full of spin and hype” warning that any new carriages could be many years away.
Paul Nettleton, chairman of the Blackpool and Fylde Rail Users Association said: “At the end of the day there is no rolling stock on order suitable to replace Pacer trains.
“You have to design them, then get approval from the Department of Transport – it is three, four, five years down the line.
“I think it is a bit of electioneering ahead of May’s vote.”
Those bidding for the franchises will also have to invest in stations, tackle crowding on trains and introduce free Wi-Fi, yesterday’s announcement said.
It added: “The publication of the Invitations to Tender is the first step in the transformation of train travel between the northern cities. It is also a significant step in the creation of a northern powerhouse for the UK economy.”
Bidders for the two franchises have already been narrowed down. For the Northern franchise, these are Abellio Northern Ltd, Arriva Rail North Limited and Govia Northern Limited.
For the TransPennine Express franchise they are First Trans Pennine Express Limited, Keolis Go-Ahead Limited and Stagecoach Trans Pennine Express Trains Limited.
But campaigners in Blackpool have already been left angered by a series of rail decisions including the loss of a regular 185 unit service to Manchester Airport, a delay to the original timetable for electrification and the loss of half of the services to and from Liverpool everyday.
Shadow minister for transport and Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said: “These announcements are full of spin and hype about improving services across the North West.
“In reality because the crucial Blackpool to Manchester Airport service is being moved from TransPennine to Northern and there is no guarantee trains from 2016 to 2020 will be any better.
“Pacer trains do not have to be got rid of until 2020 either.”
The new franchise will start in April 2016 and Blackpool North MP Paul Maynard MP said the move would include 120 modern carriages when the Blackpool line is electrified in 2017.
He added: “I welcome this.
“I have long been arguing that the previous franchise was not right and did no favour to Blackpool with its requirement of a ‘no growth’ service.
“This new franchise will open up Blackpool North to better quality carriages, an expanded destination list, more direct links and an opportunity for growth in passenger number coming into the town.”