Roll-out of new Azuma trains is delayed until 2020
The Government has admitted that new east coast mainline trains may not begin serving stations in Northumberland until at least 2020, later than originally planned.
The Azuma Intercity Express Train, which began test runs on the Northumberland stretch of the line last August, had been expected to enter service from December.
However, the trains interfere with older signalling and points systems on northern sections of the route, resulting in a delay to their introduction north of York.
The Government acknowledged the problems when responding to a question in the House of Lords from Lord Beith, the former Lib Dem MP for Berwick, as to when the Azuma will begin operating north of Newcastle.
Transport Minister Baroness Sugg said: “London North East Railway (LNER) has recently announced that (the Azuma) will not be introduced until early next year. There remain challenges relating to electromagnetic capability. Of course, this is disappointing for all involved. The full rollout of the east coast fleet is still scheduled for completion in 2020.”
Lord Beith said: “Ministers have no idea when these new trains will be operating from Alnmouth and Berwick, but it is clearly years away.”
Baroness Sugg also admitted that the Azuma would be introduced in stages because of the problems and “could not give a definitive date” by which it would run the full London to Edinburgh route.
In response, Lord Beith pointed out that every delay left passengers relying on smaller, slower trains which will be over 40 years old by the end of the decade.
Lord Beith said: “These delays are yet another shambles from a Government which has proved itself incapable of pursuing effective transport policies for the North.
“First, we had the end of Virgin’s franchise, the third failed franchise on the East Coast line, creating uncertainty for staff and passengers.
“Then the Department for Transport’s consultation on the future of Cross Country made the unpopular suggestion of cutting services from stations like Alnmouth and Berwick.
“Now we learn that the introduction of the Azuma has been set back because of technical problems.