They are the trains that have become the epitome of failing rail services in the north. More akin to buses than trains, the ‘pacers’ have rattled their way to all corners of the north of England for three decades. However, in recent weeks eagled-eyed travellers will have spotted a pacer train travelling between Scarborough and York. Surely, the Queen of Resorts is not going to be served by trains that were once rejected by the sanction hit Islamic Republic of Iran?
Thankfully, the pacers are not in public use. They are being utilised to allow Northern Rail drivers to become familiar with the Scarborough to York in route prior to the introduction of a new service in May. Northern Rail are introducing an hourly Scarborough to York train that will compliment the existing TransPennine Express timetable and give the Scarborough to York line a half-hourly service. It is understood that the Northern Rail trains will be class 158 two carriage diesel units. The trains will depart Scarborough at ten past every hour (xx.10) and York at fifteen minutes past every hour (00.15). This will give travellers to the coast line an alternative to TransPennine Express, but we will have to wait for the publication of the summer timetable to discover how the new service will connect with Filey bound trains at Seamer.
Although today the pacers are much reviled, in the early 1980s their construction aided British industry and probably saved some rail lines from closure. The pacers were cheap to build and cheap to run. More like buses than trains? There’s a very good reason for that assumption as the pacers are essentially a bus body on a rigid freight wagon body. In 1980 modular Leyland National bus bodies, built at a specially constructed plant at Workington, were taken to Derby where they were attached to rail freight wagon frames by British Rail Engineering works (later versions were also constructed in Falkirk, Kilmarnock and Leeds). It was a practical solution that brought much needed jobs to a recession hit Britain.
As the Spanish built, and also cascaded second-hand, trains take over the pacers duties by mid-2020, what will be the fate of the much-maligned trains? The scrapyard? Not so, in a move that some might view as almost beyond parody, the Rail Minister, Andrew Jones, suggested that the pacers, which will be donated free of charge by leasing company Porterbrook, to become new village halls, community spaces or cafes.
There is a long tradition of repurposing railway carriages into cricket scoreboards, holiday homes and potting sheds. Between the wars a whole host of redundant Victorian railway carriages appeared on the coastline as holiday homes. Indeed, until recently a former North Eastern Railway carriage stood on the cliffs at Skipsea, serving as a holiday retreat far longer than it did as an actual railway carriage.
At Shoreditch in east London four redundant tube trains have become something a local landmark. They sit high on a redundant viaduct and have been converted to office space. The iconic tube trains have attracted a community of artists, playwrights, filmmakers, architects, photographers and producers. Even with the best will in the world, it is difficult to image a creative community taking root in a pacer in Selby.
The uber-hip inhabitants of Shoreditch have found the former tube trains to be cold in the winter and stiflingly hot in the summer. It’s a timely warning to prospective pacer owners. The thin metal bodies, single glazed windows and notoriously flimsy doors would make any conversion costly. Indeed, it would probably be cheaper to build a brand new structure.
A public meeting in a leaky pacer is hardly the Northern Powerhouse, but it’s so charmingly British. Despite the potential mockery and impracticality, there’s something so bizarre, perhaps Heath Robinson, about a pacer village hall that makes it impossible to resist.