East of the M60 EXCLUSIVE: Nodding Donkeys become beautiful bi-modes with revolutionary technology

  • 10-car Pacers set for DDA compliant overhaul;
  • New breed of Nodding Donkeys go electric.
40 more years? Imagine these units, only five times longer, with a pantograph, a steam funnel and a tender.

Set to carry on for a longer period of time than the UK’s Brexit negotiations is the fate of Northern’s Pacer units. Due to disability legislation, the much-maligned family of diesel units were scheduled for withdrawal in 2019. In reality, the delivery of Northern’s replacements have delayed the Pacer family’s withdrawal. So much so that one of the units scheduled for inclusion in the National Railway Museum’s collection is still in service.

According to reports from an informed source, East of the M60 can confirm that the Pacer family of units will be seeing continued service for another 40 years.

The Pacer family of units, converted from the Leyland National single decker bus, have saved many rural and semi-rural lines from closure. In Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, they are the bane of many commuters’ journeys to work. Inadequate seating, leaky connecting corridors, narrow toilets and an uncomfortable ride form many a passenger’s quibbles.

Contrary to contemporary reports, they are going to be with us till 2059. Why, might you ask, would a stopgap train remain a stopgap train for another 40 years?

According to engineers at Laidflay Spoor, Northern’s Class 142 and Class 144 Pacer units could be converted into 10-car bi-mode trains. At present, most units have two cars. Some Class 144s have three cars. With The Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Interoperable Rail System) Regulations 2008, Pacers in their two car or three car forms wouldn’t be worth converting to meet accessibility standards. Such modifications, as seen with 144012 (the ePacer unit), would dramatically cut seating capacity.

By converting them to 10-car bi-mode trains, the new look Nodding Donkeys will take the pressure of Northern’s Class 319s. It would mean less under the wires running. As a present-day un-refurbished Pacer unit holds up to 121 seated passengers (or 242 as a four car set), Laidflay Spoor’s bi-mode Pacers will carry 396 passengers. The new-look trains will be based on the experimental 144012 unit.

In addition to the flagship 10-car units, there will also be some 8-car bi-mode units.

Bi-mode power sources

Instead of the 285bhp Cummins engine per two-car unit, the refurbished Pacer units will be powered by 25kV a.c. electricity (by means of a pantograph over the fifth carriage) and steam power. Where overhead line equipment is unavailable, steam power takes over.

The front and rear cars will accommodate the funnel and tender, with passenger space in the remaining eight cars. From what we have seen, the front and rear cars bear a striking resemblance to Oliver Bulleid’s experimental Leader steam locomotive. On the eight car units, six of the carriages per set will be used for passenger accommodation. The steam tender can be converted for hydrogen power in future years.

One welcome move for passenger comfort will be the end of squealing flanges. Bogies will be introduced with articulated bogies over the connecting corridors in place of axles. There will be three toilets per eight-car unit and four per ten-car unit.

The forthcoming bi-modes have already been given TOPS numbers which are as follows:

  • Class 340 (8 car units): 340001 – 340022;
  • Class 343 (10 car units): 343001 and 343002;
  • Class 344 (10 car units): 344001 and 344002.

Proposed routes

  • Huddersfield – Manchester Piccadilly (peak hours only);
  • Stalybridge – Wigan North Western;
  • Leeds – Wigan Wallgate – Southport (Northern Connect);
  • Sheffield – Marple – Manchester Piccadilly;
  • Heysham Port/Morecambe – Lancaster – Leeds;
  • Chester – Altrincham – Manchester Piccadilly;
  • Buxton – Manchester Piccadilly – Blackpool North.

From Stalybridge, any of the Class 340, 343 or 344 sets will run under their own steam (literally) before switching to the 25kV supply at Manchester Victoria station. A water tower will be added to the tip of platform 5 of Stalybridge station.

On the Northern Connect route, steam will reign supreme on the Calder Valley line before switching to the wires at Manchester Victoria. Water towers will be added to Rochdale, Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Halifax, and Bradford Interchange stations. En route to Southport, it will take the wires up to Salford Crescent (if diverted via the Atherton line) or Ince. From Ince, steam power along the way to Southport.

The return of steam would be welcomed by passengers along the Hope Valley line. What will amaze passengers is the fusion of tradition and 21st century design solutions. Steam all the way up to Ashburys junction on the stopper. Or up to Hazel Grove if diverted via Stockport.

On the Morecambe – Leeds services, the Pacer units have almost been as iconic as the Flying Scotsman. Between Skipton and Morecambe, steam will take charge along the scenic route. It is hoped that the Pacer units’ redeeming features of good window views are retained on the Class 340s, 343s and 344s.

For passengers craving capacity on the Mid-Cheshire and Buxton lines, super-sized Pacers could be the answer to their prayers. The 8-car Class 340 units would give passengers 297 seats per train. More than enough on the 0722 from Stockport to Manchester Piccadilly. A nice number on the peak hour trains from Buxton.

With Greater Manchester being Northern’s Nodding Donkey Sanctuary, you wont be surprised to find they shall be playing a part in the conurbation for another 40 years. They will take the pressure off incumbent Class 319s along the Chat Moss line. What’s more, in the spirit of our Transport Minister who is celebrating his birthday, his views of the Pennine scenery wouldn’t be spoiled by ugly overhead lines.

Your Questions Answered?

  1. Why are the Pacers being given a 40-year extension? Northern’s Class 195 units, designed to replace the Pacer units, are running late. The Class 769s, the bi-mode siblings of the Class 319 electric trains are due next month (supposedly).
  2. How are they going to make the Pacers more accessible? By taking out some seats, changing the toilets and modifying the entrances to allow for easy access for pushchairs and wheelchair users.
  3. The North of England needs new trains. Why are we sticking with our clapped-out diesel trains? The next Crossrail extension will have a station at the present-day Transport Secretary’s constituency. Go figure.
  4. How will they be refurbished? Instead of the usual ironing board style seats, as seen on modern day trains, salvaged IC70 seats from Caledonian Sleeper trains and BR Mark 3 carriages will be used.
  5. Will there be a buffet car? No. The Northern rail franchise is blessed with some fine pubs along its comprehensive network, from Nottingham to Carlisle and Barton-on-Humber to Heysham.
  6. Will it have free on-board WiFi? No. In their original form you couldn’t get Prestel nor Micronet 800, let alone dial-up internet. According to one passenger with a Casio pocket TV, paging the ORACLE was impossible on a Holyhead to Hull service. When hauled by a Pacer unit and a Sprinter unit one Saturday in 1989.
  7. When the Class 195s, and Northern’s other new trains finally arrive, will they add further capacity to the network? Hopefully yes. Alongside its brand-spanking-new trains, they may see further service on the Stalybridge to Stockport line. Also as part of plans to introduce a new service from Glasgow Central to Oxenhope via the Settle and Carlisle line with £10 tickets available up to the time of travel.
  8. Who are Laidflay Spoor? Laidflay Spoor is Mauritania’s leading manufacturer of standard gauge trains. They have opened a new works in Normanton, taking advantage of “a newly invigorated global Britain”. The new units will have specialist parts shipped from their manufacturing plant in Nouakchott to Grimsby. Thereafter, the rest of the journey to Normanton is completed by road.
  9. When will the new trains enter service? 01 December 2019. Given Northern’s series of Sunday cancellations, more likely to be the 02 December 2019.
Imagine one of these with twice as many carriages as this 4-car ‘twin squeaks’ Pacer train?

Your thoughts, please…

What are your opinions on Laidflay Spoor’s plans for the Pacer units? Are they resilient enough to last another 40 years given the right kind of refurbishment work? Could the curious hybrid of steam and electric power be a winner for passengers? We would love to hear your comments.

S.V., 01 April 2019.

One thought on “Packed Pacer Problem Solved for 2019 Deadline

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