Off The Rails readers may remember our report in the last couple of years on accessibility issues with Class 142/144 "Pacer" trains operated by Northern Rail, among other TOCs.
These aging units do not currently comply with accessibility requirements as set out in the Disability Discrimination Act. We had reported that it was rumoured that Northern's response to this was going to be to remove toilets altogether from these units rather than to bring them up to standard. It appears we may have been wrong. At a jaw-dropping cost of £800,000, leasing company Porterbrook have refurbished a 2 car 144 with a new interior, automated passenger information system (a step towards DOO-readiness) and accessible toilet.
While we welcome anything that makes life on trains better for passengers and staff, it is important to note that these modifications have been made with the approach to which Northern Rail users and workers are all too accustomed.
The wiring on the accessible toilet keeps burning out so it locks itself out of use. The automated info system regularly misses out station stops, causing confusion and occasionally panic. The cab interiors and suspension on the unit have not been touched beyond a bit of a clean-up, leaving the same crappy conditions for drivers and guards and the same terrible ride for everyone.
Northern are calling it the 144e or "Evolution". Staff are calling it "The Polished Turd". Here's hoping that the new franchisees will carry out the requirement in the franchise specification document and get rid of Pacers altogether - the sooner the better.