Nodding Donkeys ‘home’ till Christmas
Today, East of the M60 has learned that a small number of the universally derided Class 142 Pacer units will be making a comeback on Northern rail services. Thirteen of the units will be reinstated to provide extra capacity, and to ensure that social distancing practices will be maintained.
On most services, they will be coupled to other diesel multiple units that are suitable for Persons with Restricted Mobility. This means the Pacer units can be coupled to Class 150, 153, 155, and 156 DMUs. Northern Trains Limited has been given special dispensation to operate the Nodding Donkeys under Regulation 46(4) of the Railways Interoperability Regulations 2011.
Under social distancing guidelines, each two-car set will carry 26 seated passengers with no standing. This means each carriage would have space for thirteen passengers with no standing permitted. A four-car train with a reinstated Pacer unit and a Class 150/1 Sprinter unit would carry 56 passengers in all. That is 25% of the total seated capacity of 244 passengers on 2+3 seating.
One exception to this rule is the Southport – Wigan Wallgate – Stalybridge/Manchester Piccadilly – Alderley Edge route. Class 142 Pacer units can continue to operate alone as two-car sets. With The Old Lanky Line being the final resting place of the Nodding Donkeys, people with reduced mobility boarding from Ashton-under-Lyne would have to catch the bus or tram instead.
Though the thirteen units will perform a useful role in encouraging social distancing, their stay will be temporary. Each one of the baker’s dozen of Pacer units would have to be scrapped or sold to a good home by the 31 December 2020.
Its extension has also been prompted by the delayed introduction of Northern’s Class 769 DEMUs. The bi-mode trains are converted from Class 319 EMUs. Originally seen in the former Network Southeast sector (predominantly on Thameslink services), these units are two to seven years younger than the Pacer units.
As Class 769 bi-mode trains, they can cover diesel and electric lines. From Southport to Wigan, a Class 769 unit would run as a diesel train. Then as an electric train, as far as Manchester Victoria. For its last eight miles after leaving Manchester Victoria station, it becomes a diesel train till journey’s end on platform 5 at Stalybridge station.
Returning Pacer units:
The thirteen Class 142 DMUs are among 32 units that have been placed in storage. The returning Pacer units will be of particular interest to the rail enthusiast. 142004, after finishing operation will be restored to 1985 condition, and wear the orange GMPTE livery. Hopefully with the blue, brown and fawn moquette. 142018 has seen service on the Esk Valley line, having a 2+2 seating layout.
142023 should be getting ready to settle in its new quarters on the Plym Valley Railway. For up to six months, it will be seeing out its National Rail operational life in full view of the Douglas and Tame valleys. 142058 is one of a few that were refurbished (or de-furbished?) to Merseytravel PTE specifications with bright yellow and grey interiors (and the worst seats on any train in Europe).
The other units that will be returning are 142065, 142068, 142070, 142071, 142078, 142087, 142090, 142094 and 142095. Though no mention has been made of their living quarters, we think Newton Heath depot could be their final resting place.
If you wondered why the Mayor of Greater Manchester didn’t applaud the arrival of Northern’s new trains, he might have known something that few other people knew. Perhaps like East of the M60, he thought that the Pacer units would remain in service till 2020. Or beyond.
In one way, this is a shrewd move to ensure additional capacity. On the other hand, it set out the image than Ashtonians aren’t worthy of decent rolling stock, new or refurbished. Whether they will cease operation on New Year’s Eve is anyone’s guess.
Every time you’re in Miles Platting once you hear the squeak, think of the fun you could be having in the PM peak.
S.V., 02 June 2020.