Could Pacer trains cut costs for Leeds Tram

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One of the points that I make in discussions to bring a rail based mass rapid transit system to Leeds is that it will be very expensive, with the latest estimates for a tram line costing just short of £1bn. There are various opportunities to reduce the costs by focusing on specific routes (such as the railway lines through Horsforth and Woodlesford). A research facility being developed in the West Midlands is expected to make strides with regards to the technology with regards to light rail.

This proposal suggests that one of the cost saving options is to use the Pacer family of trains to provide services on the mass rapid transit system. There are numerous issues with this that means they are not an option for consideration.

Access to the units

The main driver for withdrawal of the Pacer fleet is that they are not compliant with the Persons of Reduced Mobility Technical Specification for Interoperability. A major deadline for compliance arrives on 1 January 2020 with trains having to be compliant or exempted. However, this only applies to the Heavy Rail Network so we could argue that as this is a light rail network, the Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Non-Interoperable Rail System) Regulations 2010 apply. These trains date from before 1998, so these rules should not apply on the Pacer units.

These units currently have an internal step creating a two step entrance, which could leave the operator at risk of action under the Equality Act 2010 if provision was not provided. This would require substantial work to rectify.

Age

The Pacer fleet isn’t young. They were built between 1985 and 1987, making them over 30 years old. Age brings a number of issues including wear and tear of components. Complications arise from corrosion of the bodywork and the underframe is a risk from over three decades of bouncing around the rail network at up to 75mph on four wheels with the vibrations from the large diesel engine attached to it.

The delivery time for a light rail line, even if we got on with it is 5-10 years meaning that these units could be over 40 years old before they turned a wheel in service on the light rail network.

Components

The Pacer fleet are powered by two 280hp engines with a transmission and gear box. They are fitted with single axles. Major work will be required to adapt the fleet so that they run on an updated power system with bogies that enable them to navigate tighter corners on the streets with a lower axle load. Any work will have major impacts on the body frame that is already an unknown quantity due to over three decades of use.

In summary, we are looking at old units, that are not fit for purpose for a light rail network that construction has not even been started on yet. The organisations who lead the project should look into all reasonable options to reduce costs and flag this one as a none starter.

What are the options?

A number of manufacturers produce light rail vehicles that may be suitable for the network dependent on how it is constructed. There are also opportunities to buy vehicles from networks around the world that are surplus to requirements. The decision taken may be to procure large vehicles that are found in Manchester or we may choose to use smaller vehicles similar to those used on the Stourbridge line in the West Midlands.

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