Fresh safety fears over ageing trains

trainsram'Old Pacer train used by Northern Rail
trainsram'Old Pacer train used by Northern Rail
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SAFETY concerns about old trains running on local services around South Yorkshire have now been raised by the rail regulator - nearly six months after the issue was revealed by The Star.

Northern Rail’s Pacer trains, which date back to 1985 and were built in the style of buses, were branded unsafe 10 years ago by the Railway Inspectorate because of their poor crash-resistance - but there are no plans to replace them.

They are used on Sheffield to Leeds, Doncaster to Worksop and Penistone and Hope Valley lines.

Safety concerns arose in 1999 when a Pacer set collided with an inter-city train in Winsford, Cheshire.

The smash demolished one of the Pacer’s two carriages although the express had braked to 50mph on impact.

Northern says its fleet underwent work to strengthen the trains after the Winsford crash and they are safe.

But the rail regulator has now said: “There is particular concern over the ongoing use of Pacers beyond their intended design life.”

It says there have been some ‘notable incidents’ including failure of drive shafts that transmit power from the engine to the wheels. The trains were only intended to last around 20 years.

Concern over use of the trains was voiced by Sheffield MPs including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

All Northern’s trains used in South Yorkshire date from at least 1989.

The firm pays millions of pounds each year to bank-owned leasing companies, which are supposed to invest in new trains - but none have materialised.

Today’s Railways magazine editor Paul Abell said: “If they are on a very good track they are OK, but a lot of them are used on secondary lines where the track isn’t so good and at times they are particularly noisy, uncomfortable and draughty. They are the railway equivalent of an old banger.”

A spokeswoman for Northern Rail, which operates a fleet of 95 Pacer trains, said: “Pacer trains have a good safety record and they, along with all the other types of train Northern operates, are subject to strict regular safety and maintenance checks.

“With the renewal processes we have also undertaken, the mechanics of all these trains are no more than five years old. We have a safety certificate which embraces all operation and maintenance of our fleet of trains.”