True stories from the Great Railway Disaster

A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the Government's privatisation programme; No 55: so you want new trains?
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The Independent Online
PASSENGERS on services in West Yorkshire between Leeds, Bradford, Ilkley and Skipton are bemused by the fact that they have a newly refurbished electrified line operated by trains that date back to the early Sixties.

The electrification was completed last autumn and was part of an effort to attract people back onto trains. West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority, which subsidises the local services, approached various finance houses with the idea of arranging to lease new trains, a method the Government has been supporting.

The train manufacturers, desperately short of work, were delighted at the prospect of new orders and the cost would have been about pounds 3m per year. The finance companies, however, were worried about the long-term prospects for the train services.

Mick Lyons, chairman of the PTA, explains: "They asked us what would happen if, in a few years' time, the services were privatised and the new company wanted to use its own trains, not the new ones."

The finance houses would only advance money for the trains if the PTA guaranteed that it would pay the whole price - pounds 40m - within seven days of a change of ownership being announced. "We couldn't do that," said Mr Lyons, "so the deal fell through".

In the meantime, to keep services running, the PTA found some 30- to 35-year-old trains which BR let it have free as long as they were refurbished. That cost about pounds 4m for the 20 sets of coaches. Now it seems they will have to remain on the line for years to come.

And what is most galling for the PTA and the rail passengers of West Yorkshire is that the old trundlers cost pounds 3m a year, not much less than the PTA would have paid for brand-new trains. That is because the rolling stock is now owned by three highly profitable rolling-stock companies (Roscos) which were sold to the private sector late last year and between them own all the trains on the rail network.

The Roscos charge very high rates for leasing out their stock and the Government has so far refused the PTA permission to lease new stock. Soon, the PTA, which is responsible for maintenance, will be faced with having to pay for the refurbishment of the old trains again to keep them on the rails.

Mr Lyons comments: "How can we attract people onto the railways if we can't provide them with new trains?

"The whole basis of the refurbishment scheme costing pounds 80m was that there would be new stock. Now we're paying the same amount to operate with old trains."

n A book containing all the past items in the Railway Disaster column, together with many additions and the responses of rail companies, will be published in May. Details will be available soon.