Britons travelling on oldest trains since records began, analysis shows

Average carriage built 21.1 years ago

Neil Lancefield
Monday 01 January 2018 01:00 GMT
Older trains can result in worse reliability, less comfortable journeys and poorer performance than modern versions
Older trains can result in worse reliability, less comfortable journeys and poorer performance than modern versions (PA)

Britain’s trains are the oldest since current records began, an investigation has found.

Passengers are travelling in carriages which were typically built in the mid-1990s, Office of Rail and Road (ORR) statistics show.

Press Association analysis found the average age of 21.1 years is older than at any point in publicly available records, and 60 per cent older than in 2006.

The ORR has previously said older trains can result in worse reliability, less comfortable journeys and poorer performance than modern versions, although it notes that older rolling stock can be refurbished.

Travellers using the Caledonian Sleeper service between London and Scotland have to put up with Britain’s oldest trains, at 42 years old.

Merseyrail, which runs trains in Merseyside, has the second oldest fleet at 38 years old.

Both operators plan to introduce new rolling stock in the coming years.

TransPennine Express, which operates in northern England and Scotland, has the newest trains at an average of just nine years old.

Campaign for Better Transport chief executive, Stephen Joseph, claimed the age of Britain’s trains shows “just how far the railways have to go to modernise”.

He said: “We’ve been promised new trains by several train operators and some are under construction – we now want to see these promises turn into reality.

“While some, like the famed Pacers in the North of England, do deserve the scrapyard, others can be refurbished to modern standards and could help deal with overcrowding on parts of the rail network.”

Pacer trains were built in the 1980s using parts from buses and were only intended as a short-term solution to rolling stock shortages.

ORR data shows the average age of rolling stock between January and March each year since 2001.

A number of new trains were introduced following the end of British Rail in the mid-1990s but the average age has risen during the past decade.

Bruce Williamson, spokesman for pressure group Railfuture, said this highlights “an uneven feast or famine in the railways when it comes to investing”.

He added: “We’ve still got a lot of catching up to do.”

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), representing train operators, says more than 5,500 new carriages will be in use across Britain by the end of 2020 and many other trains are undergoing multimillion pound refurbishments.

Chief executive Paul Plummer said: “This will help to deliver our commitment to boost customer satisfaction so that Britain continues to have the most highly rated major railway in Europe.”

But the launch of a new fleet of trains costing £5.7bn in October was marred by water pouring out of a faulty air conditioning unit and a 41-minute delay.

The problems hit the first passenger service by the new Hitachi-built Intercity Express trains as it travelled from Bristol to London.

Trains in London and south-east England are typically 18 years old, while regional services are 24 years old.

The latest research by watchdog Transport Focus found that fewer than seven out of 10 (68 per cent) passengers on regional trains are satisfied with the upkeep and repair of carriages, down by two percentage points in the last 12 months.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said the rolling stock figures “come as no surprise to those of us who use trains on a regular basis”.

He went on: “Passengers will continue to get wet on leaking carriages and overheated on sunny days.

“Britain used to be proud of its reputation for giving the railways to the world. Now we just have, for the most part, a clapped-out system.”

ORR figures show that £4.2bn of taxpayers’ cash went to the rail industry in 2016/17.

Taking inflation into account, this is down almost 13 per cent on the previous year, but more than twice as much as British Rail used to get before privatisation.

Private investment in rail reached a record £925m in 2016/17, according to the RDG.

Rail fares go up by an average of 3.4 per cent across Britain on 2 January, the largest increase in five years.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We are investing record amounts in delivering the biggest rail improvement plan since Victorian times to improve services for passengers – providing faster, better and more comfortable trains with extra seats.

“Passengers all over the UK will be travelling on brand new trains within the next 18 months.

“We have introduced new trains on routes across the country, upgrading trains on other routes, and removing the outdated Pacer trains from the North.”


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