Vivarail administration: What now for British battery train tech pioneer
Pioneering British firm Vivarail is on the brink of demise. The company has given notice to appoint administrators – a legal obligation for a company facing bankruptcy. The downturn in fortune for the company, famous for its repurposing of redundant London Underground stock, has come as a shock to the industry and to economic analysts across the UK.
There is real concern that the potential demise of Vivarail is the portent of a huge crash in the British economy. The firm, founded a decade ago and based in the English West Midlands, had been applauded for providing affordable cutting-edge technology solutions for zero-emissions transport. Their radical resurrection of a London Underground train, rebuilt to run on batteries, was the darling of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow last year.
Iconic picture stimulated export orders
Business sources were taken aback by the sudden announcement last week that Vivarail was in trouble. After a slow start, since incorporation in 2015, the company has been gathering momentum and orders for its range of hybrid and battery-powered trains. They have been making headway into metro, commuter and regional operators, both in the UK and abroad. Their Fast Charge battery bank infrastructure, which stores off-peak power from renewable sources, has been widely applauded.
The company has been a latter-day success story of the British rail industry. Dignitaries from around the world experienced their expertise first hand at Glasgow’s COP26, which culminated in the photocall of their class 230 train (former London Underground D76 stock) making its way across the iconic Forth Bridge in Scotland. However, the span between orders and the balance sheet seems to have been a bridge too far for the Warwickshire based company.
Technology and trains already on the tracks
Whatever has brought about the potential demise of Vivarail is unclear. Nevertheless, the company would make an attractive proposition for any potential purchaser, should it come to that. The fast charge technology alone, which can also repower diesel hybrid trains, and extend the range of electric trains beyond the wires, would be tasty cherry for any investor.
The company already has trains on the tracks or orders in the books with several UK operators, including West Midlands Trains and Transport for Wales. They recently provided an entire fleet for the “Island Line” – a modest system on the Isle of Wight, where restricted tunnel clearances make their small, former underground, class 320 trains an ideal solution. Operators there have said they are confident that their maintenance contracts will be honoured, come what may.
The board has said that time has run out to secure new investment. That has sent a shockwave through the British economy. If a company of this stature cannot secure funding, the worry is, who can?