EMT sets head from Liverpool to Norwich 050714 TM2

Photos: Tony Miles

UK: The Department for Transport has confirmed to East Midlands Railway that, for the time being at least, it is no longer planning to transfer the Liverpool Lime Street – Nottingham service to TransPennine Express from the December 2021 timetable change.

This long-standing proposal had been included in the April 2019 announcement of the award of the East Midlands franchise to Abellio. Currently EMR operates a broadly hourly service between Liverpool and Norwich via Manchester, Sheffield and Peterborough, but following a public consultation in 2017-18, DfT proposed a split of this route at Nottingham.

A written parliamentary answer on June 19 last year from then Rail Minister Andrew Jones stated that ‘this change will bring a number of passenger benefits, including more capacity on the Liverpool – Nottingham section where there is overcrowding at times today, faster journey times, a more reliable service and enabling each half of the service to better meet their individual needs and those of routes they interact with’.

While TransPennine Express and Northern had both been invited to submit costed proposals to take on the service, Rail Business UK understands that TPE had been selected as DfT’s preferred option and the operator had started the process of recruiting additional traincrew for the handover. However, on August 19 one applicant received a message from TPE apologising that the driver vacancy they had applied for was no longer available.

EMT sets on Nor to Liv service

EMR is also understood to have confirmed to staff that the route will still be split at Nottingham to mitigate the risk of delays impacting a wide geographical area — a weakness of the existing service pattern.

DfT’s decision leaves EMR facing a challenge to provide adequate rolling stock for the revised route. Currently, four-car Class 158 DMUs typically operate between Liverpool and Nottingham, continuing as a single two-car trainset on the eastern end to Norwich. As part of Abellio’s franchise agreement, these trains are in the process of being replaced by more modern Class 170 DMUs, but this cascade does not include enough trains for the Nottingham - Liverpool service.

One option favoured by industry insiders would see EMR take on 15 Class 185 Desiro trainsets which are due to be released by TPE during 2021 as its fleet renewal programme concludes. These trains are maintained by Siemens at its conveniently located Ardwick depot in Manchester.