Bosses at train operator Northern are on a mission.
They want to tempt commuters out of their cars and onto their trains.
And they are investing nearly £500m in new state-of-the-art trains and extra carriages for the congested North West rail network.
That means 43 electric and 55 diesel trains being built at manufacturer CAF’s plant at Zaragoza, Spain.
The first completed new train is now ready to roll off the production line.
The train, an electric unit Class 331, was presented to Northern at a special event hosted by CAF.
Northern knows that if we are going to tempt people out of their cars we need something like this – not what they have been used to.
The 98 new units, part of a multi-million pound modernisation of Northern’s stock, will start to be introduced on the Lancashire network from December this year.
David Brown, managing director at Northern, said: “This is a landmark moment for Northern and for rail travel in the north of England.
“We are introducing 98 new electric and diesel trains which will significantly improve journeys and the travel experience for our customers across the region.
“As well as looking like 21st-century trains, our new state-of-the-art units will be capable of travelling at 100mph, will have wifi, plug sockets at every seat, will be air conditioned and fully accessible.”
Once complete the train, along with other finished units, will soon head to Velim in the Czech Republic for testing before being brought into the UK for further tests.
These tests will take place during the spring and summer with the first trains scheduled to carry passengers in time for Christmas 2018.
Mr Brown added: “Our modernisation programme is gathering pace and the promises we made at the start of the franchise are really taking shape.
“Alongside our new trains we have delivered more than 70 refurbished trains which are already helping customers go about their daily lives with greater reliability and comfort.
“We have also started a significant station improvement scheme (Better Stations) which has already seen more than 100 stations upgraded. This work will continue for the next 18 months as we further improve waiting areas, seating, lighting and customer information.
“By 2020 we will also be operating an extra 2,000 services every week meaning our customers will not only have better trains and stations, they will also have improved options to get them to where they need to be.”
Eduardo Millan, project manager for CAF told the Post at the firm’s manufacturing plant in Zaragoza that the company was delighted to be working with Northern.
He said last week there were 46 carriages finished already and 39 already painted.
The first of the finished trains would go off for a series of tests in the very near future and would later be taken to the UK and could be in service by December.
The trains are capable of 100mph and have lightweight aluminium shells, making them more energy efficient.
Ian Hyde, head of new trains at Northern, said the new trains were “bright, clean, welcoming and modern”.
The carriages have striking blue seating, air conditioning, power points under every seat, wi-fi and a high number of CCTV cameras for passenger security.
There are no internal doors and the luggage shelves are clear for extra visibility.
The internal information screens will display a wealth of detail abut each service, including any possible delays.
And for the first time, passengers will be able to reserve their seats up to 10 minutes before they depart from the station.
Everyone will have access to either a table or a pull-down flap from seat in front.
Mr Hyde said the improvements were noticeable and attractive to passengers.
He said: “Northern knows that if we are going to tempt people out of their cars we need something like this – not what they have been used to.”
It is believed the first Northern trains will be used on the busiest routes - currently the Windermere and Blackpool to Manchester Airport route passing through Lancashire.
Richard Allan, customer and people director for Northern, said the new trains would increase the passenger capacity by around 12 per cent.
This may not guarantee a seat for all but it would be a major step forward in making the customer experience better.
Looking to the future he said: “We expect this extra capacity will be used up. We are already asking ‘What next?’.
“What do we do then? We are confident that we will see this new demand grow so we are having discussions about the way forward.”
Steve Timothy, client relations director of Eversholt, which will own the new trains, said: “We want to tranform rail travel in the North. It’s an exciting project and we are delighted to be working with Northern.”
All components and systems are tested while in the factory
Whilst in the factory, all components and systems are tested to ensure they are working correctly and are safe.
Further checks are made within the driving cab to ensure all controls operate correctly and all the alarms and emergency stop devices work. All doors are checked to make sure they don’t open when the train is moving and a sway test is carried out, which involves jacking the train up on one side to check that the body only rolls over on its suspension by the design amount. This ensures its safe on inclined track. Tests are also made on the bogies and suspension to check all carriages can go around curves and along uneven track safely.
The trains will then go to the test track to run in controlled conditions, without other trains around to ensure that:
The train accelerates and brakes correctly
The ride is smooth and free from wobbles and vibrations
The forces exerted on the wheels and suspension are within safe limits, so there is no risk of derailment
The noise emitted is within safe levels
The train doesn’t emit high levels of electromagnetic radiation that could interfere with other trains and signals
Separate tests are carried out to make sure body of each train and the bogies are strong enough and that the seats, tables and cab all behave correctly in a simulated crash.
Improvements on the Northern network include:
• More than 2,000 extra services each week, with around 400 additional Sunday services, including new direct journeys from Bradford to Wakefield, Sheffield, Nottingham, Liverpool and Hull; from Leeds to Chester and Bridlington; from Lincoln to Leeds; and from Manchester Airport to Warrington, Bradford and Halifax
• Nearly a 40 per cent increase in capacity - creating space for 31,000 extra passengers travelling into the 5 major commuter cities (Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle) of the north during the morning rush-hour
• A new high-quality ‘Northern Connect’ service, meaning new or refurbished trains on longer-distance services, faster journeys and stations staffed daily with catering services and free Wi-Fi at each one - as well as serving the 5 major commuter cities, this network will also serve other destinations including Bradford, Halifax, Blackburn, Accrington, Burnley, Lincoln, Worksop and Retford
• Improved ticketing, including mobile and print-at-home tickets, and discounted fares for jobseekers.
Northern provides 2,500 local and regional train services every day across the north of England, serving a population of nearly 15m. There are now 100 million passenger journeys made on our network each year.