New £500m train fleet for Merseyrail is being tested on the network in daylight hours for the first time but there’s still no clear date for when they will come into service. Tony McDonough reports
Merseyrail’s new £500m train fleet are being on the network in the daytime for the first time.
However, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (CA) which bought the 52 trains for the rail network is remaining tight-lipped on when they will come into full service and start carrying passengers on the Northern and Wirral lines.
For several months the new units, built by Swiss manufacturer Stadler, have been undergoing extensive testing on the Merseyrail network at night. Each test run can be up to 80 miles long with the trains reaching an average speed of 78mph.
Thousands of safety and performance tests are carried out to make sure the trains are ready for service covering every aspect of their design from the power supply and braking systems to digital passenger information boards and CCTV cameras.
Experts from eight countries including the UK, Austria, Finland, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Spain are careful assessing the performance of the trains to make sure they can be rolled out into service across Liverpool city region.
Although the initial deal was for 52 trains, Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram told LBN last year that he has ambitions to extend the Merseyrail network to places such as Skelmersdale. The planned new station at Kirkby will offer the potential for that extension.
In January 2020, Mr Rotheram and senior figures from the CA, Merseyrail and Stadler welcomed the media to the Stadler depot on Kirkdale, upgraded at a cost of £21m, to view the first of the 777 class trains that had travelled 900 miles across three countries from manufacturing and testing facilities in mainland Europe.
Extensive work on remodelling the platforms across the Merseyrail network took place in 2018 and 2019 and at the January 2020 event there was confidence the trains would be carrying passengers before the end of the year.
However, just a few weeks later the COVID-19 pandemic plunged the country into a crisis. In the months that followed neither the CA, nor Merseyrail, said much publicly about when the trains would start operating.
On Thursday Mr Rotheram said: “It’s fantastic to see that our new fleet of £500m publicly-owned trains are going on to the next phase of testing. I know people will be as excited as I am to get them on the tracks.
“These trains will be the most cutting edge and accessible anywhere in the country and a real statement of intent on the future of transport in our region. They are a key part of my vision for a London-style transport system that makes it quick, cheap and reliable for people to get about.”
From this week the Merseyside public will get a first glimpse of the trains being tested on the network during daylight hours. With more than 17,000 hours already on the clock, a further seven trains already at Kirkdale depot will be put through their paces with dynamic testing taking place on the Northern Line.
Although the new trains will be stopping at every station, passengers are reminded that they can’t board and should stand clear on platforms for safety reasons.
The Liverpool CA is replacing the current 40-year old fleet with the new trains. They have been designed specifically for the Merseyrail network and are required to undergo a rigorous testing programme both here in the UK and at Stadler’s manufacturing plants in Switzerland and Germany.
Markus Bernsteiner, head of division Switzerland and deputy group chief executive for Stadler, said: “In the testing phase all corresponding threats of a project run together.
“Reaching this milestone on time during the pandemic proves that teamwork is the key to success. We are confident that the good collaboration between the Combined Authority, Merseytravel, Merseyrail, Stadler and the authorities will positively impact the testing phase as well.”
The CA and its partners are still assessing the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the programme and will provide more information regarding the roll out as soon as it has been agreed.
Andy Heath, managing director at Merseyrail, said: “This is a significant step forward in the introduction of the new fleet onto the Merseyrail network and gives our customers the opportunity to see the trains in person as vital testing is completed.”