Stadler signs £700m contract for 52 new Merseyrail trains
A £700m deal to replace Merseyside's rail fleet with 52 new trains has been signed by Swiss-based firm Stadler.
Merseytravel is replacing Merseyrail's 40-year-old fleet with driver-only-operated trains.
The trains will be in operation from 2020 and will be step free, Stadler said.
Frank Rogers, chief executive of Merseytravel, said the fleet "will be safer and able to carry more people, more quickly."
Combined with infrastructure improvements the trains "will make Merseyrail the most accessible traditional network in the UK," he said.
Rail union RMT is to begin balloting its 200 members for industrial action on Friday in a dispute over the role of guards on the trains.
The union said it is "fighting to retain the safety critical role of the guard".
Merseyrail "will work hard to prevent strikes" and are "committed to continuing constructive discussions with union colleagues", managing director, Jan Chaudhry-van der Velde, said.
He said the trains "will not require guards" but there will be customer service staff, security professionals and cleaners on board and all guards "will be guaranteed permanent employment in an alternative position".
The deal includes building and maintaining the new fleet throughout their 35-year life cycle as well as constructing a new depot at Kirkdale, Stadler said.
The firm plans to bring 155 maintenance workers from Merseyrail into its own operations.
Derby-based Bombardier, which was one of five train manufacturers shortlisted for the contract, issued a legal challenge against the decision in January.
A spokeswoman for Merseytravel said "the legal process is ongoing" but Bombardier "agreed to lift the 'automatic stay'" which prevented them signing the contracts.