From Monday 16 October, changes will be made to the Chester line timetable. This is to improve train performance caused by a series of problems experienced over the last few weeks, including slippery rails caused by leaf-fall, busier trains as a result of the Lime Street upgrade work and infrastructure failures.
New state-of-the-art trains will be introduced on to the Merseyrail network by 2020 replacing the current fleet which is approaching 40 years old. The trains will be owned locally, and publically, with the £460 million project managed by Merseytravel on behalf of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.
Built and maintained by Swiss manufacturer, Stadler, the trains will be modern, safe, fast and comfortable. The new trains will be able to carry more people, more quickly, helping support the growth of the City Region and with the potential to run on an extended network to places like Wrexham, Skelmersdale and Warrington.
The trains will be safer than the ones they replace in a whole host of ways, most notably through a sliding step that will allow level boarding at each doorway, so people won’t have to ‘mind the gap’.
The network will remain one of the most generously staffed in the UK, with around 100 staff who will work on-board the trains, including new customer service staff as well as existing security people, British Transport Police, cleaners and revenue protection officers.
The trains will no longer require guards to open and close the doors – this will be the responsibility of the driver, as it is on lots of other networks in the UK and abroad such as the Tyne and Wear Metro and the London Underground. However, all permanent guards and guards’ managers who wish to stay at Merseyrail will be offered alternative employment within the business, on the same terms and conditions as now.
Questions and Answers
Why do we need new trains?
The current fleet has been running on the Merseyrail network since the late 1970s and is the oldest in the UK. It’s performing well for its age, but this will become increasingly challenging and costs to maintain it will start going up. Some train parts even have to be specially made now, as they are no longer available.
The existing trains aren’t built to accommodate growing demand on the network. Passenger journeys are increasing by 2.5 per cent every year and if something isn’t done, most of the Merseyrail network will be at least 160 per cent over capacity by 2043.
New trains will also have the potential to run on an extended network beyond the current Merseyrail boundaries to places like Wrexham, Skelmersdale and Warrington, helping deliver the City Region’s rail ambitions.
What will the new trains be like?
They will be a real transformation – state-of-the-art, safe, faster and comfortable and will be able to carry more people, more quickly, supporting the economic growth of the City Region.
The trains will be easier to get on and off with no ‘mind the gap’ or awkward step. Journeys will be quicker, with up to nine minutes off the journey between Hunts Cross and Southport. The trains will be more reliable, easier to keep clean and will have the latest technology such as intelligent air conditioning.
There will be more space for disabled passengers, bikes, pushchairs and luggage and the train will be bright and open with no doors separating carriages. The trains will be slightly longer and made up of four carriages, rather than three and slightly more seats than now.
How safe and accessible will the new trains be?
The new trains will be safer all round – in how they are dispatched, how easy it is to get on and off the train and in the on-board features. The new trains and associated work to platforms and track will also make Merseyrail the most accessible traditional network in the UK.
People told us that getting on and off is one of their biggest concerns. The new trains will have no ‘mind the gap’ or awkward step, with a sliding step at each doorway benefitting all passengers, especially those using wheelchairs or mobility scooters or those with pushchairs or luggage.
There will be traffic light system around the doors, indicating when it’s safe to get on and off. Sensitive door edges will detect the pull from something as narrow as a tie or finger, stopping the train from moving. Aisles will be wider, there will be larger areas at the doorways and many more grab handles, making it easier for people to move around the train and safer for standing passengers.
The train will be bright and airy and ‘one space’ with no doors separating carriages. CCTV images will be broadcast both in the train itself so passengers can see them and also to the driver and control room. Passengers will also have a direct link via help points to the driver and the control room. The driver will also be visible through a transparent cab door.
Even though guards will no longer be required to open and close doors, there will still be around 100 staff who will be on-board trains amongst passengers, including a new team of customer service staff at key locations and times, such as at night.
The trains will also meet higher safety standards in relation to fire prevention and ‘crashworthiness’.
When will the new trains be introduced?
We expect that the first train will be built and delivered in summer 2019 with testing and commissioning then taking a few months. After the first train gets the green light to enter service, there will be a gradual roll-out of the new fleet over 12 months, with a new train delivered at the rate of roughly one a week. It is expected that the last train will be delivered at the end of 2020. In 2021, once all the old trains are off the network, the new, faster timetable can be introduced.
What will happen to guards?
Currently it is guards who are responsible for opening and closing the doors and dispatching the train. On the new trains, this will be the responsibility of the driver, as it is on many networks in the UK and abroad such as the Tyne & Wear Metro and London Underground.
All permanent guards and guards’ managers will be able to stay employed at Merseyrail if they wish, on the same terms and conditions as now. It is hoped that some will move into the new on-board customer service roles, focused at key locations and times, such as at night.
Who will be building the new trains?
Swiss-based Stadler, who, unlike other manufacturers, will be building trains, from scratch, specifically to suit our network and taking into account what passengers would like to see. They are already a major manufacturer of regional, intercity and metro trains in Europe, Africa and the USA and in the UK they are building trains for East Anglia and the Glasgow subway.
Who will own the new trains?
Merseytravel oversees the operation of the Merseyrail network, and they will own the new trains on behalf of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. This is different to most fleets of trains in the UK, which are leased from a private sector company.
Local ownership is cost-effective and so helps make the project affordable, significantly reducing the financing costs. It also means the trains can be built bespoke to the network and take account of what local people want. In 2013, Merseytravel commissioned Transport Focus to carry out a survey with local passengers, and their ideas helped shape the design specifications for the new trains.
How will they be funded?
The £460m project will be self-financing, meaning that there will be no additional costs to passengers through fare increases or council tax rises. Merseytravel, as a public sector organisation, can access competitive finance opportunities, and there is already a rail reserve set aside by the Combined Authority to help fund the project.
The trains will be leased at cost to Merseyrail and, in addition, over time, Merseytravel will make lower concession payments to Merseyrail to account for greater revenue from an increase in passenger journeys and cost savings through efficiencies, such as lower maintenance costs and more efficient energy consumption.
What else does the new trains’ project involve?
New trains will be the most visible element of the project, but there will be a lot of wotk going on behind the scenes to realise the full benefits of the new fleet. This includes power upgrades to the network to allow faster journeys, to work to platforms and track to help reduce the gap between the train and platform. There will also be major refurbishment of the depots so they can be adapted to maintain modern trains, moving to more computer-based diagnostics.
Is Driver Controlled Operation (DCO) safe?
Yes, it is. DCO means that all operational train functions will be managed and monitored by the driver, including the opening and closing of train doors via cameras along the outside of the train. If it wasn’t safe, trains that use that method of operation would not be allowed to run. The regulator, the Office for Rail and Road (ORR), considers it a safe method of working with the right systems and processes in place and so does the Rail Safety Standards Board (the RSSB). Importantly, DCO is not about removing the guards, (who are currently responsible for opening and closing doors) and keeping everything else the same, but using modern technologies and new processes to transform how the train operates.
Many suburban commuter networks and all Metro networks in the UK are DCO, including Metrolink in Manchester, the Tyne & Wear Metro and London Underground – which has been DCO for 30 years. Around 60- 70 per cent of all rail passenger journeys in the UK are on DCO networks. It is also used extensively across Europe.
In adopting DCO on our network, we are also responding to the report made by the Rail Investigation Accident Branch (RAIB) into a fatal incident at James St in 2011. DCO was the mode of operation all bidders put forward as the solution in meeting the recommendations.
The new trains are being built abroad. Will there be any benefits and opportunities locally?
The new trains will bring a significant boost to the local economy of around £70m a year and will lead to the creation of 1,000 jobs as existing and new businesses and organisations take advantage of trains that can carry more people more quickly.
While procurement laws mean that we can’t stipulate what can be built or made locally in relation to the project itself, we are doing all we can to encourage the use of local suppliers and other expertise. There will be the opportunities to bid for work, for example in the construction of the new maintenance depots and in servicing support. Bam Nuttall’s Warrington office has won this contract.
In spring 2016, close to 40 suppliers, over half of which were from the Liverpool City Region, got to ‘speed date’ with bidders to explore the potential for them to do business together.
Designs have been provided by Stadler, the preferred supplier of the new trains appointed by Merseytravel.