New state-of-the-art trains are set to be introduced on to the Merseyrail network by 2020, replacing the current fleet, which is approaching 40 years old. This follows the decision made on 16 December 2016 by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, which authorised the procurement of the new trains. The £460 million project is being managed by local transport executive, Merseytravel.
The new trains, to be built and maintained by Swiss manufacturer, Stadler, will be modern, safe, faster and comfortable. They will have more capacity to support the economic growth of a modern city region and have the potential to run on an extended network. They will be safer than the ones they replace – and there will still be staff on board focusing on customer duties. The new trains will be in public ownership, and Merseyrail will make no additional profit from them. New trains will be DCO (driver controlled operation), but none of today’s permanent guards or guards’ managers will be forced to leave Merseyrail’s employment.
Questions and Answers
What will the new trains be like?
The new Merseyrail fleet will be modern, safe, faster and comfortable, with more capacity to support the economic growth of a modern city region.
They will benefit from advances in modern technology, be safer, more reliable, and thanks to faster acceleration, journey times will be reduced. They will be more comfortable, with up to date heating and cooling systems and easier to keep clean, dramatically improving the customer experience.
There will be more space for bikes, buggies, disabled passengers and luggage; intelligent air conditioning, a bright, open and airy saloon, and a mix of seating types, keeping some of the ‘sociable’ facing seats.
How safe 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.
In asking local people what they wanted to see on any new trains, getting on and off was one of the biggest concerns. The new trains will effectively see the ‘gap’ removed, most notably through a sliding step, making it easier to get on and off, particularly for people in wheelchairs and mobility scooters and for those with pushchairs. The Merseyrail network will become the most accessible traditional network in the UK.
The train itself will form one continuous space with no dividing doors. CCTV images will be broadcast within the train saloon and to the driver and control room, and there will be direct link to the driver and the control room. The driver will be visible through a transparent cab door, and on-board customer service staff will be available to ensure passenger comfort and security.
There will be traffic light illumination system on 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 or bringing it to a stop.
Aisles will be wider, there will be larger areas at the doorways and many more grab handles, making the train much easier to move around and safer for standing passengers.
The trains will meet higher safety standards in relation to fire prevention and ‘crashworthiness’.
How else will new trains be different from the current fleet?
Trains will be faster: journey times between Southport and Hunts Cross will be reduced by up to nine minutes. Capacity will be greater, and they will be able to carry 60 per cent more passengers (486 vs 303 people), while retaining the same number of seats. They will have the potential to travel beyond current Merseyrail boundaries to places like Wrexham, Skelmersdale and Warrington. The new trains will also be greener, using at least 20 per cent less energy.
When will the new trains be introduced?
We expect that the first train will be built and delivered in summer 2019 to undergo testing and commissioning over several months. After it gets the green light to enter service, there will be a gradual roll out over 12 months as a new train is delivered at the rate of roughly one a week. It is expected that the delivery of the last new train will be at the end of 2020. In 2021, once all the old trains have been removed from the network, the new, faster timetable can be introduced.
Why do we need new trains?
The current fleet has been running on the network since the late 1970s and is the oldest in the UK. While well maintained for its age, this will become increasingly challenging and costly. Some train parts even have to be specially made now as they are no longer available.
Furthermore, 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 network will be at least 160 per cent over capacity by 2043.
What will happen to the role of the guard?
As a way of meeting specific safety recommendations following a fatal incident on the Merseyrail network in 2011, the new trains will see the driver responsible for the opening and closing of doors and dispatch (Driver Controlled Operation or DCO), rather than a guard. This means guards in their current role will no longer be required.
However, passengers will benefit from new on-board customer service staff who will be deployed at key locations and times and will work alongside other existing on board staff such as security staff and cleaners.
Will new trains be able to carry more people?
Yes, they will, and this is so that they can accommodate the 2.5 per cent rise in patronage forecast for the next few years. Trains will be longer and made up of four carriages, as opposed to three. There will also be the same number of seats as now.
Who will be building the new trains?
Swiss-based Stadler, a major manufacturer of regional, intercity and metro trains in Europe, Africa and the USA. They are growing their UK presence, 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. Most fleets of trains in the UK, like the current fleet, are leased from a private sector company, but these will be belong to the city region. The benefits of local ownership are twofold.
Firstly, it is cost-effective and so helps make the project affordable. Not leasing from a ROSCO (a rolling stock company) significantly reduces the financing costs and allows Merseytravel to access highly competitive finance opportunities available for public bodies for projects of this nature.
Secondly, it 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 nor to council tax payers. There will be a variety of funding mechanisms, including a rail reserve that has already been established for this purpose and loans at favourable interest rates, such opportunities are currently being explored, such as a loan from the European Investment Bank.
The Combined Authority will borrow the money on behalf of Merseytravel, who will purchase the new trains. In turn, they will be leased at cost to Merseyrail Electrics 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 a lot of behind the scenes work will be required 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. 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 and so does the Rail Safety Standards Board (the RSSB). Importantly, DCO is not about removing the guards 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 the Tyne & Wear Metro and London Underground – which has been DCO for 30 years. In terms of ‘light rail’ the Manchester Metrolink is also DCO. 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 very specifically to the report made by the Rail Investigation Accident Branch (RAIB) into a fatal incident at James St in 2011. It was the mode of operation all bidders put forward as the solution in meeting the recommendations in the incident report that were included as part of the specification for new trains.
As well as focusing on minimising the gap between the platform and the train, the recommendations also called for the person who is responsible for the dispatch to see along the edge of the platform for as long as possible, ideally until the train has left the platform and to be able to brake immediately and directly in the event of an incident on the platform edge– something that is not currently possible.
The new trains will make the Merseyrail network the most accessible traditional railway in the country. How?
Passengers with wheelchairs, buggies and bikes or other mobility challenges will be able to get from the platform on to the train largely unassisted, removing the need for a ramp that is currently deployed by station staff.
The body of the train designed to fill the gap between it and the platform, the lower train floors reducing stepping distances, as well as the sliding step from the train and modifications to platform and track, all represent a pioneering approach for the UK in terms of safety and accessibility of the network.
This level of accessibility is usually only achieved on networks built from scratch and not Victorian networks, like Merseyrail’s, with its curved platforms and varying platform heights.
On-board features will also support those with mobility needs such as wider aisles, clear areas for bikes and wheelchairs, fold up seats to accommodate buggies and prams.
While not all Merseyrail stations currently have lift or ramp access to station platforms, a high proportion (more than 50 per cent ) allow for fully accessible end-to-end journeys.
The new trains are being built abroad. Will there be any benefits and opportunities locally?
New trains that can carry more people, and faster, 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 improved connectivity.
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 1in the construction of the new maintenance depots and in servicing support.
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.