Members of the Merseytravel committee have approved plans to replace the ageing Merseyrail fleet, and have launched the search for a company to bring forward the design, construction, delivery and ongoing maintenance of 50 new trains.
The project will include major infrastructure improvements at stations and depots, and to the power supply to the network.
Merseytravel will hold an industry day at the beginning of December for potential applicants. It is expected that a preferred bidder will be identified towards the end of 2016 and it will be at this point that city region leaders, through the Combined Authority, will be asked to commit to the project going ahead.
The Merseyrail network is made up of 66 stations along 75 route miles of network, and carries around 34m passengers each year.
New trains by the early 2020s are considered the best option in meeting growing demand on the network and in supporting the city region’s economic ambitions, while also presenting the best value for the public purse.
It follows the development of a detailed business case over many months which looked at all options from refurbished stock to new stock now or in the future.
The current fleet is approaching 40 years old, is amongst the oldest in the UK and is close to the end of its operational life.
New trains that can carry more people and with shorter journey times will help meet growing demand on the network, of which parts are already close to capacity at peak times.
According to Merseytravel, demand is increasing by 2.5% each year, with an overall 40% increase in passenger numbers expected by 2028. Some parts of the Merseyrail network are predicted to be way over capacity, 160% filled, by 2043.
A new set of trains is also considered the best option to support the delivery of the city region’s long term rail strategy by providing a fleet that could carry significantly more passengers and run on a potentially extended network within the next 30 years to places such as Warrington and Crewe.
The plans have been developed to ensure that there will be no additional costs to local tax payers, with costs recovered over the operational life of the new trains by leasing them to the commercial operator responsible for the Merseyrail network, currently Merseyrail Electrics. Merseytravel’s initial investment will use a variety of funding mechanisms, including a rail reserve already established for this purpose.
Cllr Liam Robinson, chairman of Merseytravel, said: “Giving the procurement process the green light to proceed is a decision taken both out of practicality and ambition for the Merseyrail network, the people who use it and the city region economy. We can’t stand still.
“Now it’s up to the bidders to help shape our vision. This isn’t about new trains because we simply want a new train set, it’s because we recognise that a new fleet, and the associated works, is essential for providing services that people and business can rely on, as well as being stimulus for further economic growth.”