Operational problems could delay roll-out of new Merseyrail train fleet

CGI of proposed new Merseyrail trains

Merseyrail’s new £460m fleet of trains could face delays in their introduction, or costly signalling upgrades on the system to meet their scheduled roll-out.

There are also fears that some of the current fleet, which is more than 40 years old, may have to be retained to overcome the operational issues.

The new fleet will comprise four carriages during off-peak periods, and eight cars for peak-time services.

That compares with three car, and six car services, respectively, for the current fleet.

However, the new eight car trains, which are longer than the current fleet, overlap the signalling system at some stations.

This means that points behind the trains cannot be set properly to allow the new rolling stock to manoeuvre at stations, including Liverpool Central – one of the busiest stations in the country – Southport station and Hunts Cross.

Rail bosses have been advised that there are two solutions to the problem.

One is to retain 14 of the old trains to deploy during rush hour services until the signalling system can be upgraded.

The other is to bring forward scheduled signalling upgrade work by more than two years at a cost of millions of pounds.

It is believed politicians have shied away from retaining old rolling stock as it would send the wrong message to the travelling public over the costly fleet upgrade process – but with a decision due by the end of this month the option is understood to be back on the table.

The old trains would be kept running for a further two years, until the scheduled signalling upgrade takes place in 2022.

Merseyrail would also need to set up a small maintenance team to look after the older trains, probably based at Southport station.

The new fleet, built by Swiss company Stadler, is due to be introduced next year as part of a phased roll-out.

Any delays in the fleet’s introduction would be another major inconvenience for commuters.

The transport authority has had to carry out a costly programme of work at 53 Merseyrail stations to ensure platforms are the right height for new sliding step technology on the new fleet which means there is no gap between the platform and the train.

Further work, as part of the latest phase of this extensive programme, is due to start on several remaining stations soon.

At the height of the station alterations, in the early Spring and Summer, thousands of commuters were forced to use bus replacement services due to station closures for the work to be carried out.

A spokesperson for transport authority Merseytravel said: “As part of the planned infrastructure works required in advance of the new Merseyrail trains being phased in from 2020, we will be undertaking platform lengthening and signal works at some stations.

“We’re working with Network Rail on the plans for these works right now and will be providing further information once these are finalised.

“As with all engineering works there will be some disruption but we’re confident it can be kept to a minimum.”