UK: The leaders of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority gave the go-ahead on December 16 for a £460m project to replace the Merseyrail suburban electric multiple-unit fleet. This includes the selection of Stadler to supply a fleet of 52 trainsets for entry into service from the end of 2020. Contracts are expected to be signed in early 2017.

Bombardier, CAF, Siemens and a consortium of Mitsui, Alstom and East Japan Railway’s rolling stock manufacturing business J-TREC had also been shortlisted for the rolling stock contract.

‘This is a once in a generation opportunity for custom-built trains that will be safer and carry more people more quickly’, said Chair of the combined authority and Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson. ‘Unusually, these trains will be owned by us locally, meaning we can make sure the trains are exactly what passengers want and that they are ready for our future plans.’

The project is being financed from a reserve fund which had been established for the purpose, as well as loans which the combined authority is to secure from sources including the European Investment Bank. Transport authority Merseytravel will own the trains and lease them to the operating concessionaire, which will be paid a lower operating fee to account for the expected increase in revenue and lower running costs.

The fleet renewal programme also includes power supply, track, and station upgrades and refurbishment of the Kirkdale and Birkenhead North depots. The reduced journey times and better reliability means the decision has been made to order 52 EMUs to replace the current fleet of 59 trains.

The first EMU is scheduled to be delivered in summer 2019 for several months of testing ahead of the delivery of series-built trains by the end of 2020. A new timetable will be introduced in 2021 once the existing Class 507 and 508 units dating from the 1970s have been withdrawn; the new trains’ better acceleration and braking is expected to enable Hunt’s Cross – Southport journey times to be reduced by 9 min.

The 65 m long four-car EMUs will have the same number of seats as the existing three-car sets, but will be 4 m longer with wide through gangways to provide an increase in standing space. This will increase total capacity per EMU from 303 to 486 passengers.

There will be a mix of airline and facing seats, with more space for bicycles, pushchairs and persons with reduced mobility. The train body will be designed specifically for the Merseyrail network, with lower floors and a sliding step to provide near-level access.

There will be a passenger intercom and CCTV linked to the driver and control room. The doors will be illuminated red, amber and green inside and out to show when they are opening or closing and when it is safe to board and alight.

At 99 tonnes, the EMUs will be lighter than the current 105 tonne trains, and energy consumption is expected to be 20% lower, including regenerative braking; options for energy storage are to be studied.

The 750 V DC third-rail EMUs will be capable of conversion to dual-voltage operation for use on 25 kV 50 Hz lines with a view to serving Skelmersdale, Warrington and Wrexham in the longer term.

The trains will be equipped for driver controlled operation, which the combined authority said was ‘put forward by all bidders’ as way to meet the requirements of a report into a fatal incident in 2011. The driver will be responsible for opening and closing the doors and for train dispatch, eliminating the need for guards. Roving customer service roles will be created, with staff available to assist passengers ‘at key locations and times’. There will be fewer customer service roles than guards positions, and while the combined authority envisages there will be natural wastage over the next four years, it has endorsed proposal to guarantee continued employment for all guards currently permanently employed.

‘In an ideal world we’d like to have a second member of staff on every train to ensure the highest level of customer service, but there aren’t the resources to do that’, said Councillor Liam Robinson, Chair of the Merseytravel Committee. ‘Some guards will have the opportunity to be employed in a new on-board customer service role and others will be able to take advantage of other redeployment opportunities, all on the same terms and conditions as now.’