Aventra electric multiple unit at Alstom factory in Derby

No Christmas cheer at Derby as Alstom UK job losses seem inevitable

Aventra electric multiple unit (EMU), built for South West Rail, at Alstom's Derby production site Alstom

Insiders at Alstom in Derby already feared the worst when job losses were announced in mainland Europe. The administrative cutbacks had been hinted at in the run-up to this week’s announcement. Nevertheless, there was shock at the scale of engineering job losses proposed at the Litchurch Lane Works. The address is famous throughout the railway community, and synonymous with manufacturing in the sector. However the factory site has a huge hole in its order book, and that has put more than 1,300 jobs in the firing line.

Uncertainty over railway development plans has contributed to a thin order book for Alstom in Derby, the largest rail assembly plant in Britain where production began in 1840. Couple that uncertainty with the cancellation of the northern section of the massive HS2 high-speed rail project, and the prospects for Alstom, and other manufacturers, is not looking optimistic. The plant in Derby will, on current orders, fall largely idle early next year. After months of talks with the Government, they must now plan to end the production of rolling stock within the city. The company has therefore entered into consultation over extensive job losses at Litchurch Lane, coinciding with the end of current projects.

It’s a second engineering blow for Derby after Rolls Royce signposted possible job losses in the city. It’s also unwelcome news for the city which is slated to be the headquarters of the planned new infrastructure and management agency, Great British Railways.

Parliamentary reaction is angry

With the current order book, there will be no new trains rolling off the Alstom Litchurch Lane assembly line until work commences on trains for HS2. That contract begins in 2026, but with the high-speed rail project cut back, there is less overall requirement to service the new line and its fleet. UK orders have not been forthcoming, and with more competition for overseas projects, the company has confirmed that jobs are almost certain to go. Media reports say that 550 permanent jobs and 780 temporary jobs are at risk.

Dublin DART train at the platform in green livery
Alstom built these units for the Dublin DART services, part of Irish Railways (Image: Alstom )

The news followed swiftly on the back of a round of job cuts at the company in Europe. “Incredibly disappointed that Alstom has been unable to secure the required orders to protect constituents from potential redundancies”, said local member of parliament, Amanda Solloway, who has been quick to respond. She said her Westminster colleagues have already set up a cross-government task force to hold weekly meetings with the company. She added that the secretary of state for transport, Mark Harper, has written to all industry stakeholders and has worked to support Alstom in any bid on available contracts.

Focus on this vital industrial sector

There is a long history of railway manufacturing at the Derby works. Originally opened in the nineteenth century by the Midland Railway, and later absorbed into the London Midland and Scottish Railway. The works became a pivotal part of the nationalised British Railways in 1948. Upon privatisation in the nineteen-nineties, the works went through many iterations, before becoming part of Alstom in 2021, when that company acquired the assets of Bombardier.

A statement issued to local media and attributed to the UK government’s Department for Transport said that they will work closely with Alstom as it continues to deliver on its contractual commitments. That cut little ice with the leader of the City Council in Derby, Mr Baggy Shanker, who was widely quoted. “Ministers really need to commit and focus on this vital industrial sector”, he said. “To date, I’m disappointed that no minister has agreed to speak to us on this matter.”

Great British Railways may find its reason for locating in Derby diminished by the time the new agency is established. For the professionals already working in the city, it’s hardly the festive news that anyone at Litchurch Lane could have hoped for. The majority of engineers at the plant would want nothing more for Christmas than a new train set. It looks like their collective stocking will be empty.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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