Pacer train at Manchester Victoria photo © Stephen Craven (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Northern finally began withdrawing its decrepit Pacer trains – dubbed “not so much rolling stock as a laughing stock” – from Greater Manchester’s tracks today.

A spokesman for the train operating company said: “Seven of the units are being retired from the network today never to return.”

But with 100 of the ageing rattlers in use on Northern’s rails, there’s still a long way to go before the buses on train tracks – described by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham as “museum pieces” – are gone for good.

Northern had promised earlier this year that all its Pacers, based on Leyland National buses and built between 1980 and 1987, would be gone by the end of 2019.

But it became evident in early summer that some Pacers would still be running into 2020 – 40 years after the first examples, intended as a short-term solution to a shortage of rolling stock at the time – appeared.

The Northern spokesman explained that delays in the delivery of new trains was impacting on the original plan to retire all the Pacers by the end of this year. However “most” would be gone by then.

So far only 15 of 101 new trains on order – a £500 million investment by Northern – are operational. The new Class 195 diesels and class 331 electrics are being built in Spain.

New trains are in service on Northern routes between Leeds and Doncaster, Cumbria and Manchester and Liverpool and Manchester Airport

Pacer trains are still used frequently on the mid-Cheshire line between Manchester and Chester and on some services between Wigan and Alderley Edge.

But even when the Pacers are finally gone from the railway tracks, we still may not have seen the back of them.

In what must be one of the most bizarre proposals ever to emerge from the Department of Transport, officials suggested that carriages could be found new uses as village halls and community cafés.

Launching the scheme, rail minister Andrew Jones said: “Through this competition we can ensure that the Pacer can be transformed to serve a community near where it carried passengers in an entirely different way.

“What we need now are creative and exciting proposals from the public, alongside ideas from businesses keen to support this competition, as we say goodbye to Pacers on our railway.”

The idea, however, was met by derision.

Jonathan Reynolds, MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, told the Manchester Evening News: “My personal suggestion would be to invite my fed up constituents to dismantle them piece by piece – a bit like when the Berlin wall came down.”

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