Brand new trains will be running on the Merseyrail network by the end of 2020 – but new technology has also prompted a controversial plan to axe guards.
Journey times will be quicker, with the service six minutes faster from Chester to Liverpool Central.
The trains will be built and maintained by Swiss-based manufacturer, Stadler – and let’s hope they operate as efficiently as the Swiss railway network which reputedly always runs on time.
In a £460m project backed by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, the near 40-year-old trains that currently run on the network – the oldest in the UK – will be replaced with a state-of-the-art fleet.
Key features include:
■ Faster speeds, cutting journey times by 10 per cent – up to nine minutes on some end-to-end routes.
■ Safer travel – by reducing the ‘gap’ between the train and platform and with a ‘sliding step’ from the train
■ More reliable trains that don’t break down as often.
■ There won’t be any more seats than now (486) but longer trains will mean more standing room with handrails and grab poles for busy periods
■ The trains will eventually be capable of running beyond the current Merseyrail boundaries to places like Skelmersdale, Wrexham and Warrington
■ New trains will be among the greenest in the UK using up to 20% less energy per journey
The new trains will have more space for bikes, buggies, disabled passengers and luggage with intelligent air conditioning; a bright, open and airy saloon, and a mix of seating types, keeping some of the ‘sociable’ facing seats.
Merseyrail says the train will be a ‘safe space’ forming one continuous space with no dividing doors; CCTV with images broadcast within the train saloon and to the driver and control room; the driver visible through a transparent cab door and on-board customer service staff.
Doors will be ultra safe with traffic light door illuminations indicating when it’s safe to get on and off; sensitive door edges that will detect ‘the pull’ from something as narrow as a tie or finger, stopping the train from moving or bringing it to a stop.
A hugely controversial aspect of the plan is that the new trains will be driver-only with guards removed from the train. Doors will instead be operated by the driver alone with the aid of cameras along the body of the train and a PA system to communicate with passengers.
That means the jobs of more than 200 guards will cease to exist, though more than 60 new on-board customer service roles will be created, with no compulsory redundancies for guards who are currently employed.
Staff will be on hand to assist and advise passengers, targeted at key locations and times.
Plans to introduce such driver-controlled trains on the Southern Railway network of commuter trains into London have led to a series of strikes and a bitter dispute between unions and train bosses.
Cllr Liam Robinson, chair of the Merseytravel committee, said: “These new trains will be fit-for-the-future, safer and faster and at no additional cost to passengers or council tax payers. It is a ‘must do’ project; the benefits are clear.
“That is not to say that we’re not sensitive to the staffing implications of such a decision. In an ideal world we’d like to have a second member of staff on every train to ensure the highest level of customer service, but there aren’t the resources to do that.”