Passengers could be boarding the new £500m Merseyrail train fleet by the end of January with a deal with train drivers’ union ASLEF now the ‘final obstacle’. Tony McDonough reports
Merseyrail train drivers will vote on a new terms and conditions deal in the next few days that will finally clear the way for the new £500m train fleet to come into service.
Purchased by Liverpool City Region Combined Authority from Swiss manufacturer Stadler, it was hoped the first of the 52-strong fleet would be in service by the end of 2022.
Just before Christmas Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram said a range of issues from Brexit to recent industrial action by rail staff and the freezing weather had meant that was not possible.
However, speaking on Radio Merseyside on Friday, Mr Rotheram said the “final hurdle” was an agreement with train drivers’ union ASLEF on the terms and conditions for the drivers of the new trains.
Divers are voting on a proposed deal with the result expected on Tuesday (January 17). If the vote is positive then the new trains could begin carrying passengers on Merseyrail’s Kirkby line within days.
That route has been chosen as it is the shortest line on the network and the main depot at Kirkdale is also on the line. This will make it easier to deal with any initial teething problems. Full network roll-out is likely to take around 15 months.
Kirkby will be first as it is the shortest line and Kirkdale depot is also on this line, making it easier to address any initial operational teething issues. It will be a phased introduction, line by line, over about a 15-month period and is standard industry practice
Mr Rotheram said: “We are trying to work through all the difficulties we have had and it has been really hard.
“We will find out the results of that ballot early next week and after that we can hopefully go very, very quickly into service. Everything is in place – we just need to get over this final hurdle and I’ve got everything crossed.”
Once in service the new trains will offer free Wi-Fi, wider seats and space for up to 50% more passengers. They will also feature sliding step technology which will allow unassisted access for wheelchair users and those with bikes or buggies – a UK first.
In December LBN revealed that a test run of one of the new class 777 trains saw it travel 135km using just a battery. An earlier test in the summer saw one unit run around 32km by battery.
Battery-powered trains will run to the new Headbolt Lane station at Kirkby which is due to open in 2023. The technology also offers the possibility of Merseyrail services as far afield as Skelmersdale, Wrexham, Warrington and Runcorn without the need for expensive electrification.