Politicians across the North West have got themselves in a terrible froth over the news that nine trains currently in service with Transpennine Express (TPE), which suffers serious overcrowding on many of its services, will next year be transferred south to Chiltern Railways. But the story is rather more complicated than just one stock transfer, and travellers should not panic just yet.
Staying - Transpennine Express Class 185
TPE had a new fleet built for it by Herr Siemens over in Germany, but the proposal for 56 trains was cut to 51. Partly because of this, some older BR-built Class 158 sets were retained to work alongside the new arrivals, which are known as Class 185. There was then a swap with South West Trains (SWT), who ran the 158’s Class 159 cousins between London, Salisbury and Exeter.
Going south - Class 170 (this is a Cross Country example, seen at Nuneaton)
TPE sent its 158s to Salisbury, exchanged for SWT’s more modern Class 170 units. SWT then had a more or less uniform diesel fleet. No problem was foreseen, as the TPE franchise would end before the lease deal on the 170s was up. However, and in these cases there is inevitably a however, in the wake of the West Coast bidding fiasco (see my posts HERE and HERE) many franchises were extended.
Moving franchises - Class 158 (this is a South West Trains unit, seen a long way from home, at Crewe)
Now, the TPE franchise ends after their leasing deal on the 170s, which are not owned by the operator, but leasing firm Porterbrook. And they had already done the deal with Chiltern. News emerges, headless chicken mode is automatically engaged. Then it emerged that TPE would have their stock gap plugged by transfer of units from Northern – which also suffers regular overcrowding.
Moving north - Class 319 units at Kentish Town
So more headless chickens were let loose. Northern would lose nine of its Class 158s to TPE. But the full picture was not being seen. In the meantime, the Northern Hub electrification project was in progress, with Liverpool to Manchester via Earlestown due to be completed by the end of this year. The only problem was getting hold of electric trains to run the service.
That would mean Northern’s diesel fleet would not need to be so large, and there would be no problem releasing those units to TPE. Where would the stock come from? These would be units at present in service with First Capital Connect (FCC) on the route from Bedford and Luton across London to Gatwick Airport and Brighton, Class 319 sets built by BR, which are being replaced with new trains.
The 319s are not new, and it seems may not get a refurbishment before arriving in the North West. But they are no worse than BR-era diesel “Sprinter” units currently in service with Northern. Moreover, they come in four coach sets, so will provide more seats. They are faster and more reliable than what is currently operating the route. All of that means there is no need to panic.
Still, it fills the column inches and sells more papers. No change there, then.