'Ancient' trains may knock Sunday city service off track

PUBLISHED: 15:51 07 April 2013

exmouth train

exmouth train


The unprecedented rise of the Exmouth railine could be stopped in its tracks the rail minister has been warned, because the trains are too old.

Passenger numbers on the Avocet Line to Exeter have increased by an astonishing 75 per cent in just a decade, with rail journeys for January 2013 up by a third compared to last year.

Growth has been so rapid rail chiefs are looking to trial extra Sunday services this summer.

But chairman of the Avocet Line Rail Users Group (ALRUG) Tony Day recently warned railway minister Norman Baker MP that the Exmouth line would struggle to expand further because of its ancient trains.

The fleet of trains are 143 ‘Pacers’, which came into service when Margaret Thatcher had just come to power.

They are rickety and with too few seats with no air conditioning or disabled facilities.

To replace them First Great Western is hoping to get 25-year-old hand-me downs, called 165s, from the Thames Valley network.

Despite their age they are reliable workhorses and could become available if parts of Network SouthEast are electrified.

This would mean that the diesel engines would become available.

But there are concerns that there are plans to keep the older 143s in service for another 15 years.

Mr Day, who chatted with Mr Baker following a recent visit to Exeter, said: “I pointed out to the minister that the continuing growth in use, unprecedented and unpredicted, on this and on other South West community rail lines is already starting to overwhelm our ancient rolling stock.

“We don’t want to have to wait for the promised electrification cascade from the Thames Valley – for which new trains have yet to be ordered.”

He added that the problem was that most services on the Avocet Line were two-car trains, and to cope with the popularity of the rail line they needed four carriages with more seats.

He said: “Of course we would like better trains but really the issue is more trains.

“We would struggle to cope with the increase of passenger numbers using the existing units.

“We would like to have a plan in place within the next year or two for more trains, and preferably not the 143s.”

However, a recent article in Modern Railways magazine said that the 143s could be ‘adapted’ for the disabled.

This implies that there may be moves for the trains, which were first designed in the 1970s, to keep on running until at least 2028.

“I really hope that doesn’t happen,” he added.

● What do readers think about the trains and the quality of service? Email phil.griffin@archant.co.uk

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