OUTDATED Pacer diesel trains could find new lives as community centres or village halls, according to the Department for Transport.
The economically-built Classes 141, 142 and 143 units were built in the 1980s by British Rail as a way of replacing first-generation diesel multiple units on local lines without spending more than absolutely necessary.
The chosen solution was to adapt the already-established Leyland National bus body to fit on a freight chassis.
The Pacers’ lack of bogies gave them an unusual ride, and they were later dubbed ‘nodding donkeys’.
But changes in the rules mean that the Pacers must be retired by the end of this year. They are not welcoming to wheelchair users and discharge toilet waste on to the track, which is also being outlawed.
They are still in service at the moment with Northern and Transport for Wales, but both operators have new trains on order.
One attempt to update a Class 144 Pacer to conform with modern regulations was made by leasing company Porterbook in 2015, but the rebuilt vehicle has not found favour with the industry, which is more likely now to consider Vivarail’s ex-London Underground Class 230s if economy is particularly important.
With the Pacers therefore set to make their last journeys within the next seven months, rail minister Andrew Jones has suggested that their bodies could find new uses in local communities.
He has invited suggestions by launching a competition, while Porterbrook will be donating a Pacer which can be used for experiments.
Mr Jones said: ‘The Pacers have been the workhorses of the north’s rail network, but it is clear that they have outstayed their welcome.
‘Through this competition we can ensure that the Pacer can be transformed to serve a community near where it carried passengers in an entirely different way. What we need now are creative and exciting proposals from the public, alongside ideas from businesses.’
Northern managing director David Brown added: ‘Using a Pacer as a valued community space is a very fitting way to commemorate the service they have provided since they entered service a generation ago.’
But the idea has already been ridiculed.
Labour Co-operative MP Jonathan Reynolds, who represents Stalybridge and Hyde, is less enthusiastic than Andrew Jones.
‘I am not sure my constituents will agree that this is an “exciting opportunity”, unless one of them is turned into a museum dedicated to highlighting years of under-investment in northern transport,” he told the Manchester Evening News. ‘My personal suggestion would be to invite my fed-up constituents to dismantle them piece by piece, a bit like when the Berlin Wall came down.’