The death of British train building?

Reports on the death of British train building are premature says Andy Milne.

How could we be so stupid as to lose the last train building plant in Britain with its extended family of engineers, designers, and fitters and all their attendant skills?

That is the question upper most in the minds of the British public after the Secretary of State announced the contract for the new Thameslink fleet would go to Siemens and the trains to be built in Germany. Strong public support for Litchurch Lane has surprised government officials.

The message is a simple one: Stop the deal and back the British bid.

Britain’s bid, placed by Bombardier Transportation, would have seen the new fleet built at Litchurch Lane in Derby, Britain’s last surviving train building facility.

The plant needs more work and even with this order would be hard pushed to keep all its staff on. The abject surrender of British train building to foreign interests goes right to the heart of what is wrong with modern Britain and its political class.

This is proving a difficult summer for the government. The war in Afghanistan goes badly. Soldiers, we learn, are being told not to shoot dead terrorists seen placing road side bombs, but instead to try and apprehend them.

Public disillusion

At home the economy continues to falter as the government fails to provide industry stimulation by reducing taxes and cutting unproductive public spending. In fact government spending has gone up under this administration.

Bailing out the collapsing Euro has only fuelled public disillusion with the European Union. Worst of all, the new administration is now fatally involved in the Murdoch-media scandal. Apoplectic promises to reform the press cut little ice with a public that remembers the MPs expenses scandal, broken by a free press – the concomitant of a free society.

Already it is all but impossible to criticise some religions, sexual orientation or European unity.

The political class is seen as self serving and expedient. Whilst this may be unfair, particularly in relation to the Hammond-Baker, British-built two-car team, it is nowhere better demonstrated historically than in the railway industry.

A latter day victim

British train building is a latter day victim of the failure of successive governments to support railways. Stop-start spending bursts meant it was almost impossible to sustain a domestic rail vehicle market.

By contrast in France and Germany sustained investment in new railways and new rolling stock created a healthy and by now globally established train building industry. Moreover 95 percent of trains used in Germany, Italy and France are built domestically.

These governments know how to look after their own people.

Despite this in a bizarre twist of fate, Britain now has one of the fastest growing rail industries in Europe. A small crowded island, elongated and clogged with ill conceived motorways, Britian needs more railways and more trains.

The danger, which the British have woken up to rather late in the day, is that being dependent on foreign trains puts them at a disadvantage. To understand a market you need to be involved in it yourself.

The job surely of a democratic government is to advance the interests of those who elect it. Historically the over riding consideration of successive governments when shamed into actually investing in rail is how best to do it cheaply.

This applied to East Coast Main Line electrification, the building of High Speed One and even Crossrail. The Gordon Brown administration constantly asked for cost reduction.

The upshot is delay. Thameslink itself was originally named Thameslink 2000 back in the nineties. The title tripped neatly off the tongue implying the work would be done by then.

Unanimity of support

Make no mistake, failure to save British train building will rebound on the government. The cause of Litchurch Lane has already achieved a unanimity of support that would be the envy of any social engineer.

Lord Sugar writes, ‘London train order gone to Germany? UK factory loses tender and announces 1,500 people will be laid off. Makes no sense!’ Hugh Grant agrees, ‘It’s so awful to be paying our tax pounds to a German company rather than to keep our own guys in work at Bombardier.’

The general secretary of the RMT is of like mind. ‘It’s a scandal that the Government are colluding with the European Union in a policy of industrial vandalism that would wipe out train building in the nation that gave the railways to the world,’ says Bob Crow.

What can the Secretary of State do? Siemens makes excellent trains, no quibble there, and doesn’t it have a better credit rating? Can we stomach further delay? Calling in the contract might lead to legal action by Siemens. Hardly if the company wants to bid in future for British rolling stock orders.

An important order

Cancelling the contract and retendering it will mean another year’s delay. Some argue we’ve waited long enough for Thameslink, what’s another year? Need the delay be quite so long? Staff at Litchurch Lane would certainly be happy to ramp up speed of delivery.

The credit rating canard is patently absurd. The Euro could collapse any time this summer. Can we really take the risk of placing such an important order in such a troubled currency zone?

The reality is Her Majesty’s government is perfectly capable of insisting that British trains be built in Britain, bought and paid for in pounds sterling. This is absolutely in accordance with EU aspiration and policy. Remember 95 per cent of trains used in Germany, France and Italy are built at home.

All we ask is the same basic human right, not even as high a percentage. This is an important order which needs to be built here. Switch it back and everyone’s a winner from Downing Street to Derby.

The European Union, among its laudable ideals, was set up to protect ordinary men and women from war, famine, mass unemployment and oppression. That’s the basis of the Treaty of Rome and the rather more detailed Lisbon Treaty.

The troubled chancelleries of Europe can only applaud a European transport minister for encouraging a French Canadian company, headquartered in Berlin, Germany, to build trains in a heavily working class area of northern England.

Switching to Derby will demonstrate real leadership and a more pertinent espousal of the philosophical imperatives of the European Union.

9 COMMENTS

  1. ‘The British government need to look after their own people” I think you are misguided. They are looking after their own people but their own people doesn’t extend to the British poulation but is really limited to the elite who are will to dump upon thousands of people to line their own pockets.

  2. Can I ask how many of the workers at Derby own British built cars.
    I am fed up at hearing workers complaining at the loss of their jobs and then drive off home in their foreign built cars.
    We really cannot have it both ways.

  3. In Reply to John,
    I work for Bombardier and drive a british built Toyota as do quite a number of my Colleauges,
    I do not see the relevance of your argument. Yes we have lost our car industry, but why should we allow these short sighted idiots running our country give our train making industry away as well.
    I suspect you might feel aggrieved if you like me and 2000 odd of my work mates are about to be thrown onto the scrap heap through no fault of their own.
    It’s attitudes like yours that are at the root of the problem, COMPLACENCY , until of course it affects you and yours.

    • The British car industry has not been “lost” it is still doing very well but it is now owned by foreign multinationals. The remnants of our train building industry – i.e. Bombardier and Brush Traction – is also foreign owned and therefore, any decisions on it’s future in the UK will be made in boardrooms in Germany and America. With Hitachi arriving here soon and the possibility of CSRE also establishing a manufacturing base in the UK, Bombardier willbe faced with more competition that just Siemens.

  4. we shouldnt be losing this asset built in britain by british workers everyone will be affected by this even down to joe public our purse strings are tight enough plus fares need to come down and if we havent enough stock why not rent trains from private companies till the rolling stock arrives then there will be no overcrowding on trains the uk has trains on preserved lines plus would be cheaper than buying new untill purse strings are healthy and when is woodhead going to open theres a high speed link not being used ???????????????????

  5. This press release was issued last week. The government’s inaction came as no surprise to me, having taken part in a debate with the 3 big parties last year and all of them failing to even mention train manufacturing in the UK.

    Alan Francis
    Green Party Transport Speaker

    Green Party of England and Wales

    [email protected]
     
    Greens defend rail jobs in UK
     
    11.7.11

    “Awarding train contracts to Siemens continues the dismantling of the engineering industry and technical know-how in this country.”
     
    Rally in Derby on Saturday 23 July
     
    ==
     
    The Green Party has condemned the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government for giving a £3 billion order of new rolling stock for Thameslink trains to Siemens.
     
    The rival bidder, Derby-based Bombardier, has laid off over a thousand workers, as the last remaining train builder in the country. The Bombardier factory in Derby is now under threat, and so are thousands more jobs in the Derby area in other rail businesses that supply the factory.
     
    Green Party transport spokesperson Alan Francis said: “We need more train carriages and more manufacturing jobs in the UK. Train manufacturing in this country should be expanded, not forced to close down. It is a dereliction of duty by the government to stand by and see the loss of skills and jobs.”
     
    Derbyshire Green Party Chairman David Foster said: “The coalition government is playing political football with the livelihoods of thousands of people in Derby and Derbyshire.
     
    “One of the most worrying aspects of this deplorable decision is that it continues the trend of dismantling the whole engineering industry and technical know-how in this country. We have already witnessed the demise of the British automotive industry and rely heavily on foreign manufacturers. If we don’t wake up to what is happening, we risk losing our national engineering heritage.
     
    “I urge the people of Derby and Derbyshire to show their opposition to this decision and come to the rally in Derby on Saturday 23 July.”
     
    At a pre-general-election rail debate in Westminster in 2010 (1), Alan Francis was the only politician to argue not only for more train carriages for the rail network, but to also to state that they should be built in the UK to preserve British jobs.
     
    Francis was on a panel with Chris Mole, then a Labour government transport minister, Stephen Hammond, then a Conservative shadow transport minister, and Norman Baker, then a Lib Dem shadow transport minister. The debate, before an audience of senior rail industry people, was chaired by the BBC’s Nick Owen.
     
    When questioned about orders for new carriages, all of the panelists claimed that they wanted to see more carriages on the network. But Francis was the only one to talk about building those new carriages in this country.
     
    Alan Francis said today: “This shows that all three of the main parties are so wedded to the free market, they are willing to sacrifice British manufacturing and British jobs. After the debate, I was congratulated by a member of the audience from a Derby rail company. He thanked me for being the only panellist to raise the issue of train building in this country.”
     
    Notes
     
    1) The Rail Debate, 17th March 2010, Central Hall, Westminster, see part 8 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxuBUEorm_I&feature=related
     
     
     
    http://www.greenparty.org.uk
     
     
    Published and promoted by Spencer Fitz-Gibbon for the Green Party, both at
    Development House, 56-64 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4LT.
     

  6. It’s the same here in Australia. More & more industry has gone overseas, mainly China. It’s disgraceful thay maunfacturing industry has gone! It seems to be the way of the world these days and there is very little that we can do about it.

  7. why brits lose their innovation skills and thrust . rolling stocks are just a load of axial and radial. brits can make worlds best engine. why they are comparing and degrading them. A genuine group of boffins and engg can roll a stock better and advance than deutch, franca &italia. Now time calling gov to make a platform for establishment of uk rolling rather than depend upon other for employement.

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