NEW trains are to be built for the Merseyrail network by Stadler of Switzerland, as part of a programme costing £460 million. This headline figure also covers upgrades to the power supply, platforms and track, as well as refurbishment of the depots at Kirkdale and Birkenhead North and future maintenance of the new trains.
Stadler had been shortlisted in January, along with Bombardier, CAF, Mitsui and Siemens, after the tender process was launched in October 2015. At the time the cost of replacing the fleet had been put at £400 million.
The trains, designed specifically for the network, will have no conductors or guards and drivers will control the doors, a feature which has angered the RMT. However, there will be staff on board some trains to help and advise passengers.
The first train is due to be delivered in mid-2019, and the whole fleet is intended to be in service by the end of 2020, replacing a fleet which is almost 40 years old and was becoming increasingly expensive to maintain.
Merseytravel said it had considered what should be done with its ageing fleet, and its preparation of a business case had included the possibility of further refurbishment.
However, it concluded that new trains were the best option to meet demand, which is growing by 2.5 per cent annually. It had been calculated that parts of the network could be significantly over capacity -- by as much as 60 per cent -- by 2043. It said the improvements could boost the region by £70 million a year, and create 1,000 jobs.
The 52 four-car trains will be publicly owned rather than leased from a ROSCo, and the finance needed will be raised in various ways, including by using a rail reserve that has already been established for this purpose, plus loans at 'favourable interest rates'. Merseytravel said 'such opportunities are currently being explored, such as a loan from the European Investment Bank'.
Although details of the financing are still to be confirmed, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority will borrow the money on behalf of Merseytravel, who will be purchasing the new trains. In turn, they will be leased at cost to the operator Merseyrail Electrics.
Merseytravel will make lower concession payments to Merseyrail Electrics to account for the greater revenue which is expected from an increase in ridership. Cost savings are also predicted from reductions in maintenance costs and energy consumption.
Councillor Rob Polhill, who is lead member for transport on the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, said: "The decision today is not just about the new trains themselves but what they will enable us to do.
“These trains will have the capability to operate beyond the current Merseyrail boundaries, potentially bringing the benefits of the high performing network to people in places like Skelmersdale and along the Borderlands line into Wrexham within the next 30 years – helping us deliver our long term rail strategy.
“The new trains will help us improve links within and beyond our area, linking in to the wider ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ agenda.”
Each train will have four rather than the present three cars and capacity will be 60 per cent greater. This will be achieved by providing more room for standing passengers, wheelchairs and luggage, because the number of seats will be the same as now.
As with several other new fleets, such as the Thameslink Class 700 trains and London Underground S-stock, the interior will be continuous, with no divisions between cars.
The decision to transfer door control to drivers will be accompanied by 'traffic light' indicators to tell passengers when it is safe to board or alight, and sensitive edges on the doors will react to small obstructions, such as a tie or finger.
These precautions have not reassured the RMT, which issued a protest shortly after the new deal was announced.
The union's general secretary Mick Cash said: "Merseytravel has today decided that it can’t afford to run safe trains with guards, so it intends to run unsafe ones. They are ramming DOO down our throats.
"If ScotRail can introduce new trains and retain guards, then so can Merseyrail. We will now be seeking assurances from Merseyrail that it has no intention of removing safety-trained guards from any of its trains."