Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, all public transport will have to be accessible by 2019.
The ageing "Pacer" DMUs (Classes 142, 143 and 144) cannot be made accessible without considerable refurbishment and the sacrifice of a good deal of the existing saloon space.
A rumour persists — and seems to be being confirmed informally by some NR managers — that on Northern Rail at least the solution to this problem is not to retire these decrepit units and replace them with decent, safe, modern rolling stock. Instead, the supposed plan is that the toilets will be removed altogether, thus complying with the accessibility laws. If you don't provide a facility, there's nothing to be accessed!
You only have to look at one of these units — never mind ride on or work on one — to realise they should have been retired years ago. If this happens, they're going to be even more uncomfortable for passengers and staff alike.
It would come as no surprise if an operator like Northern did choose to let its passengers and staff down in this way. It runs its services with mainly old, knackered and poorly maintained stock, raking in the biggest subsidy per passenger mile of any rail franchise and still paying millions to its shareholders.
If this goes ahead, RMT and ASLEF should refuse to operate the units. Passengers and staff deserve to travel with dignity on trains that are fit for purpose and accessible to all. This would be a big step away from that.