East of the A627 World Exclusive: Ageing DMUs set for online revolution

A still from the Northern On-Line tutorial video (available in VHS, Betamax and V2000).
A still from the Northern On-Line tutorial video (available in VHS, Betamax and V2000).

On the same day the Department for Transport announced the launch of free WiFi on most trains south of Colchester (and odd ones in Wales), East of the A627 can reveal the latest breakthrough in rail travel affecting Northern English passengers. Northern Rail – the Cinderella franchise of Cinderella franchisees – will be getting a piece of the online action pretty soon.

Entitled “Northern On-Line”, the new system will be fitted on its Class 142 Pacer units, its Class 150 Sprinter trains, and in the waiting rooms of selected staffed stations managed by the franchise. The state-of-the-art information system will not be fitted on its Class 156s (some slated for lease to Transpennine Express), nor the 323 and 333 (which already have WiFi) electric trains. All systems will be ready for installation at the start of April this year, with the 2017 journey from Manchester Piccadilly to Chester via Altrincham its first candidate.

Each carriage will be modified with one in two seats taken out, to allow for the provision of monitors and keyboards. Phone sockets will be fitted on the sides of each carriage.

A spokesperson for Northern Rail stated that “Northern On-Line is a real quantum leap in improving the way we keep our customers informed. With the Northern Hub in motion, we are entering a new railway age”.

However, some passengers were not convinced. Ms. Oxlade-Chamberlain, from Higher Blackley said “it was a waste of money” and that “money should be spent on new trains”. Mr. Trevellyn from Bramhall said, “I’m already happy with their website. Why do we need this when my smartphone can do just as good a job?”

An instructional video was recorded for all members of staff and passengers in VHS, Betamax and V2000 formats. The original choice of voiceover artist, Stuart Hall, was otherwise engaged. Instead they chose Alan Bardsley, whom many Mancunians would remember for his voiceover work on Piccadilly Radio.

Facts on Northern On-Line

The rather spiffy Northern Online logo.
  • To keep costs to a minimum, recycled visual display units from the British Rail era, mothballed at Manchester Victoria station, will be used instead of LED screens.
  • One in two rows of seats will be taken out to accommodate the monitors and keyboards. Therefore, each 2-car Pacer unit will only seat 55 persons instead of the usual 110.
  • BT phone sockets will be placed at each side of the carriage. S/he could use their laptop by placing their telephone cable into the REN 1.0 standard sockets.
  • Each terminal will be connected to the aforementioned sockets on all Class 142 and Class 150 diesel trains allocated to Newton Heath depot.
  • The Northern On-Line system is designed with ease of use in mind. No fussy graphics, no pop-ups, just a clear display and all the important information at a glance.


Public viewings

The Northern On-Line instructional video will be exhibited at the following venues:

  • 13 February: Manchester city centre, The Salisbury (near Oxford Road railway station), 8pm;
  • 14 February: Altrincham, The Malt Shovel, 3pm;
  • 15 February: Stalybridge, The Fox Tavern, 6pm;
  • 16 February: Middlesbrough, Walkabout, 11pm;
  • 17 February: Hellifield Junction, railway station, 2am;
  • 18 February: Barrow-in-Furness, Forum 28, 7.45pm;
  • 19 February: Southport, The Scarisbrick Hotel, 11.30am;
  • 20 February: Atherton, Pound Pub, 12 midday.

If you can’t make any of the viewings, the 21 February showing of ITV Nightscreen will be replaced by Introducing Northern On-Line in the Tyne-Tees, Yorkshire, Border and Granada regions. Full details in next week’s TV Times.

S.V., 11 February 2015.

2 thoughts on “Coming Soon: Free Internet Access on Pacer Units

  1. Stuart: I’m disappointed with this. I expected that some of the familiarisation sessions would actually be East of the A627(M) in West Yorkshire and that I would be able to use my new acoustic coupler. What on earth are they thinking?


    1. Hi Ben,

      The lack of Yorkshire venues may be due to the WiFi access on Airedale and Wharfedale Lines’ Class 333s. As for the acoustic coupler issue, the Atari 830 doesn’t work in the UK.

      A suitable alternative is the Prism VTX 5000 modem, which works with a BT socket and Prestel type systems like Northern On-Line. Plus it works on the BBC Model B and ZX Spectrum computers.

      Micronet 800, here we come! Right, where did I put my Compunet details, C64 and VICModem…?

      Bye for now,



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