A companion article to Nodding Donkeys: Greater Manchester’s Love/Hate Relationship with the Class 142 Pacer Unit.
Point One: Pacers are a poor substitute to most rolling stock seen on UK National Rail metals. Yes in all but 1% of instances (citing of course the crap window to seat arrangements on the Class 150/1s). Sometimes the side window views are pretty good thanks to the bus seats.
Point Two: some Pacers are more equal than others. Yes, if you are sad or have to use the god damn things each day (users of the Old Lanky line from Manchester Victoria to Stalybridge, I have every sympathy with you). The earlier article explains this in greater detail.
Point Three: Greater Manchester is Pacer Central – and this includes the Merseytravel and Northern Spirit/Nexus Tyne and Wear PTE ones – yes, very true, but these are only the Class 142s. The Class 143s are predominant on the Cardiff and Rhondda Valley lines. Class 144s are often seen outside Greater Manchester.
Point Four: the bus seats are uncomfortable: yes, if you are travelling for more than 2 hours. Let us not forget that the first generation Lightweight DMUs and Railbuses had bus style seats in as well.
The Pacer Unit from Hell
Imagine yourself waiting for a train to Northwich. You make the journey every so often to see your aunty in Middlewich and often see a Class 150/1 or Class 150/2 unit as your regular train. Sometimes you may see a Pacer or a Super Sprinter. You sometimes think nothing about the Pacer unit, unless it turns out to be an ex-Merseytravel one.
The nightmare comes true as Class 142 unit 142042 squeals into Platform 11. Oh my giddy Aunt: it is one of Northern’s 16 Merseyfailers. In other words, the Pacer units designed to Merseytravel PTE. These trains from Hell accounted for one fifth of Northern’s Class 142 units (73) in 2004.
Before I wait for some wag to say ‘there aren’t any’ merits of the Merseyfailers, even a rail fanatic like myself sees some good points:
- Large indicator display – bigger than standard indicators seen on most ex-BR DMUs and EMUs;
- Internal indicator display facing the direction of passenger;
- Bright interiors from toilet to bicycle rack.
Among the saving graces of these units are the bright interiors which (before you sit down) make for a cheery ambience (so long you’re not aboard the 1756 to Huddersfield from Manchester Victoria). The internal indicator is a useful addition which should be seen on all modern trains. In fact it would make sense for Northern Rail to add similar equipment to non-Merseyfail Pacer units and its other EMUs and DMUs.
I would put the kettle on before you read this:
- Large indicator display could use orange LEDs rather than non-illuminated yellow ones for improved night/low light vision;
- Individual seats which are likely to cause backache after 10 minutes and piles after 20 minutes;
- Poor seating layout and legroom;
- 3+2 seating layout and uncomfortable seats unsuitable for high-density loads.
Firstly, the abject discomfort endured by users of such units encourage them to use spare seats for storing luggage. This in part is also down to the lack of overhead luggage racks (before refurbishment, each car had two sets of luggage racks). Plus, it is harder to store light luggage underneath the individual seats (one advantage of the bus seats they replaced).
Back and bottom support is woeful as the backrests are thinly upholstered compared with the bus seats. Cushions have slightly more padding, but again, less comfortable than a bus seat. The plastic case which carries each seat disadvantages passengers 6 feet tall or above, allowing for a knee-crunching journey.
Though there are few quibbles about all seats facing the front exit, my quibbles concern the 3+2 seating layout. A staple of most Pacer units, the original designs were based on five skinny blokes on each row (two on one side of the gangway, three on the other). Three rounded blokes on each side more like (try that on the Merseyfailers). The 3+2 layout also poses problems for passengers being forced to stand up. First Generation DMUs also had handles on the corners of seats to allow this. Perhaps a 2+2 Merseyfailer might be better, though with the seats of the NEXUS Tyne and Wear examples.
Personally I would like to see the North West of England shorn of its Pacer units in favour of trains with more robust bodywork. Some defend the Pacer units due to the cab controls being in the right position, in spite of the undulation faced by its drivers (sprung drivers’ seating as seen on road coaches could be a good idea). Though it has been the difference between Greater Manchester losing her railway lines or retaining them, the conurbation has outgrown them. In spite of rail privatisation, patronage in Greater Manchester has risen – possibly at the expense of inadequate bus services (as seen at Stalybridge, Mossley and Greenfield stations).
In the short term, I would like to see Merseytravel PTE’s interior with NEXUS Tyne and Wear seats for my ideal Pacer unit. Or better still, standard profile Richmond or Chapman seats as seen on the Class 143/144 units bodied by Alexander, with Northern Rail’s dark blues and indigos.
Traumatised by the Merseyfailers? Willing to defend the indefensible?
Feel free to comment on the joys of riding a Merseytravel PTE specification Pacer unit. Share your anecdotes and nightmares.
- PacerChaser: an excellent reference to all things regarding the Class 142 Pacer units and history;
- TrainTesting (4 wheel 2 car and 3 car railbuses): a complete article on the Class 142, its predecessors and forerunners;
- Wikipedia: the free encyclopedia’s slant on the Class 142s.
S.V., 08 March 2011 (Giving up Pacer units for Lent)