Despite it being one of the oldest lines in the UK, the Merseytravel route which operates in Liverpool has still seen a 2.5% passenger increase year on year. But now the 40-year-old infrastructure has become an important investment opportunity for Swiss Stadler Rail. A deal has been signed with Merseytravel worth up to £700 million to build and maintain 52 new metro trains on the network which serves Liverpool. Passengers in the region will be able to use this service from 2020 which will replace the UK’s oldest fleet. The new trains will be built to the highest specification and provide a step free access for all rail passengers. Stadler will also establish a new Kirkdale maintenance depot which they will design, build and operate. This contract will replace the existing fleet and transform it from one of the oldest to the most modern routes in the country. Additionally, it will be able to accommodate 60% more passengers and offer lower journey times.
Stadler Rail is a Swiss manufacturer for railway rolling stock which specialises in high-speed trains, intercity, regional and commuter trains, trams, tram-trains and underground. The rail company is one of the last European manufacturers of rack railway rolling stock. Through this modernisation contract, Stadler will undertake light and heavy maintenance of the units throughout their 35 year life cycle; ensure the highest possible availability of trains and the most efficient maintenance turnaround. Stadler will also oversee the maintenance of the existing fleet, which will be carried out at the current facility in Birkenhead.
Peter Jenelten, Executive Vice President and Head of Marketing & Sales of Stadler emphasises the importance of the UK in helping the company continue to grow. “This contract with Merseytravel marks a very important milestone for Stadler in the UK. It will bring safer, more comfortable trains that can carry more people and will help provide the Liverpool City Region with the metro service it deserves.” The new trains will also allow Merseytravel to extend its operations beyond the current network, including services to Wrexham, Skelmersdale and Warrington.
On a more controversial note, the new trains will also see guards removed from trains, as each one will be controlled solely by its driver. Whilst Liverpool Council estimate that this will lose the region 3,000 jobs, Stadler will transfer 155 maintenance workers from Merseyrail into its own operations, bringing the total number of Stadler employees in the UK to over 200 people by 2019. The Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson, in response to this said he did not believe that safety on trains would be compromised with the new driver-only operation, highlighting the new trains’ improved CCTV and other improvements. “It’s a conundrum that’s difficult to solve. But doing nothing is not an option And to keep the guards on the trains would cost us round about £5 million a year and we can’t afford that and paying for new trains so something has to give in order for us to get a modern, efficient service,” as reported in a local newspaper.
However, the RMT stated its opposition to any plans to cut guards on Merseyrail trains. Just this week, the RMT’s North West regional organiser John Tilley told Merseyrail: “We will not operate any driver-only trains on Merseyrail”. Despite this, Merseytravel confirmed that there would be no compulsory redundancies as a result of the new fleet. Cost savings will be made through redeployment, voluntary redundancies and retirements.
Frank Rogers, Chief Executive of Merseytravel said: “We are very much looking forward to working with Stadler.” With the trains designed with the local people in mind “the fleet of new trains will provide the foundations of our City Region’s long term rail strategy and we anticipate our relationship with Stadler developing into a strong, enduring partnership.“
Special safety features
The new vehicles have been designed for the specific needs of customers travelling on the Merseyrail network, with many features reflecting what people said they wanted in research done by passenger watchdog Transport Focus in 2013.
Providing a new level of safety, intelligent sliding steps, combined with infrastructure improvements, will virtually eliminate the gap between the platform and the train, providing step free access at all entrances. With no ‘gap to mind’, the new fleet will be highly accessible for all, from wheelchair users and the elderly, to cyclists and passengers with luggage. Sensitive door sensors will detect obstructions, while door illuminations will inform passengers when it is safe to embark and alight.
On-board safety will be enhanced by open and airy compartments with no dividing doors, as well as CCTV and a transparent cabin for the driver. The trains will have wider aisles, larger vestibules at the doorways, more grab handles, making the train safer to use for standing passengers too.
All the interior fittings will be damage resistant and the exterior will be graffiti and spray paint resistant. The driver’s cab offers a comfortable working environment with enhanced sight lines, an ergonomic desk arrangement and all of the functionality required for flexible, modern trains.
The trains will have lower floors, only 960 mm above rail level, and will be entirely walk-through, increasing their capacity to 486 people (182 seated, 302 standing, and two wheelchair users). Strong but lightweight carriages, built from aluminium extrusions, mean they will be safer and more energy efficient.
The 64.98 metres long and 2.82 metres wide trains will operate on a 750V DC third rail network with a maximum speed of 75 mph (120 km/h). The units will also be equipped with batteries that allow independent movement of the units in the workshop and depot areas. The trains will be able to be retrofitted for 25 kV AC operation and ETCS Level II.
Stadler’s UK presence
In the UK, Stadler’s Variobahn trams operate on the London Tramlink. Its Class 68 diesel locomotive is the most powerful to run in the UK, and the Class 88 dual mode locomotives are used on freight and passenger services. It has recently been awarded a contract to build electric and bi-mode multiple units for the new East Anglia franchise, part of the largest ever rolling stock procurement in the history of the UK, and is providing the vehicles for the Sheffield tram-train, the first of its kind in the UK. It is also part of the consortium supplying a new fleet of trains for the Glasgow Subway.
“The UK is a key part of our global strategy and this contract represents the latest step in our growth here. We have recently been successful in several high profile tenders, including the provision of 58 multiple units for the East Anglia franchise and the delivery of 17 metro trains for the Glasgow Subway, and we now look forward to working with Merseytravel to deliver its new trains on schedule.”
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