A new 52-strong fleet of trains has been purchased for Merseyrail network by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority for £500m – but when will they start carrying passengers? Tony McDonough reports
Merseyrail’s new £500m train fleet was due to come into service across its network in a phased programme beginning in 2020 but, halfway into 2021, the roll-out has yet to begin.
Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (CA) has purchased the 52-strong fleet from Swiss manufacturer Stadler. That number could double if Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram realises his ambitions to extend the Merseyrail network to places such as Skelmersdale.
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. Merseyrail’s Twitter feed has responded to questions on the issue from the public citing the “ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The new trains have been running on the network but in a testing capacity. One of those tests has been to determine how the on-board battery would allow the trains to operate without the electrified third rail, thereby offering potential to extend Merseyrail’s reach without further electrification.
LBN understands more information on the roll-out of the trains is expected in the next few weeks. In a statement, Merseytravel (part of the CA), said: “Unfortunately, we’re still not able to confirm the timescales for the phased introduction of the new trains.
“We are still reviewing the impacts of the pandemic on the wider programme and there are still some challenges. We are working closely with our partners and we will make further announcements as soon as we can.”
The new fleet will be based at Kirkdale while the old rolling stock, some of which dates back to 1978, will be moved to Birkenhead before being returned to owner Angel Trains, from whom they are leased.
The new Class 777 trains include free Wi-Fi, wider seats and space for up to 50% more passengers. They will also feature pioneering sliding step technology which will allow unassisted access for wheelchair users and those with bikes or buggies – a first for the UK.
All of the trains will be more energy efficient and the Combined Authority estimates the investment will boost the city region by £70m a year. They will also come equipped with wifi, plug sockets and USB charging points.