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‘Is it one of the new hospitals?’ – Grant Shapps mocked for Pacer train tweet

The transport secretary hailed the use of the maligned Pacer trains as repurposed classrooms and kitchens – but it went off the rails on social media.

Grant Shapps has come under fire for his “patronising contempt for northern England” after the transport secretary’s attempts to publicise Pacer trains’ last stop fell flat on social media.

The Conservatives have been under pressure to deliver for their new northern supporters after taking ‘red wall’ constituencies from Labour in the 2019 General Election.

Shapps showed how the government was ‘levelling up’ through turning retired Pacer trains into repurposed kitchens, support centres and even classrooms “serving northern communities”.

Pacer trains have become a symbol of England’s north-south divide in recent years with the ageing railbuses staying in service in northern England long after their intended 20-year lifespan.

Shapps tweeted: “As #GreatBritishRailways marks a new era for our railways, we’ve put retired Pacer trains to new uses serving Northern communities: A family support centre at a hospital, A kitchen for a mental health charity, A new classroom for kids.”

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The maligned trains – converted Leyland National buses introduced in the 80s as a short-term solution to a shortage of train stock – have only been phased out in northern England in recent years with some still operating in 2021.

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The UK government ran a Transform a Pacer competition to repurpose retired trains with one of the winners, Fagley Primary School in Bradford, receiving their train in March to be used as a classroom.

But with northerners keen to see the back of the yellow eyesores, Shapps’ Pacer celebration went off the rails on social media.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner led the charge. She tweeted: “The patronising contempt you have for the North is disgusting. Firstly Pacer trains are still in use across the North despite it being 7 years since the Tories’ “Northern Powerhouse” broken promise. Secondly fund our schools and railways instead of using carriages as classrooms.”

Meanwhile, Keith Mullin, lead singer of Liverpool band The Farm, mocked the Conservative minister’s photo of the Pacer train that became the new family support centre at Airedale General Hospital in Keighley this week.

The 19-tonne carriage will become a space to support children and families as well as those suffering with dementia at the hospital.

But Mullin questioned whether the project really showed the Tories’ election pledge to build 40 new hospitals. He tweeted: “Is this one of the new Hospitals you promised to build? A&E looks a bit mad.”

Meanwhile, other Twitter users took aim at what the Pacer trains project means for education, health and the much-promised ‘levelling up’ in the North.

One user tweeted: “I personally would die of terminal embarrassment if, as a government minister, I decided on tweeting out in the year 2021 that a bus that was grafted onto the wheels of a train carriage had been turned into a classroom. As if this was some kind of achievement?”

Another added: “Nothing says that you take levelling up seriously like repurposing a 50 year old knackered train carriage as a classroom for Northern kids.”

Meanwhile, another tweeter shared a photo of a packet of cigarettes and suggested it could be “repurposed as a pencil case for a Northern child for their new term”.  

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