Aventra electric multiple unit at Alstom factory in Derby

UK train factories at risk of closure

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

With manufacturing jobs threatened and train factories at risk of closure, there have been calls for the UK government to make immediate decisions on the building and upgrading of rolling stock. Leading the chorus has been the Railway Industry Association (RIA), the vociferous champion of the supply chain in the UK. The Government for its part is reportedly working urgently with train manufacturer Alstom to secure the jobs of its staff and suppliers in its Derby factory, the UK’s largest train factory.

Recent stop-start decisions on rolling stock orders have left the train manufacturing and refurbishment sectors concerned about what the future holds. In the last three and a half years, the only significant order for new or upgraded trains has been the HS2 order, announced in December 2021. Previous orders will soon be completed, and factories and upgrade facilities will be empty putting at risk thousands of jobs. The industry is calling for urgent decisions to upgrade or replace parts of the UK passenger fleet which are already approaching 35 years old.

Rail manufacturing jobs in jeopardy

The UK government has responded to calls for a concerted plan of rolling stock replacement and refurbishment. “Rail manufacturing plays an important role in growing the UK economy”, said a statement from the Department for Transport. “The Government remains committed to supporting the entire sector.” However, the showpiece Alstom plant in Derby, the city slated as the headquarters of the new Great British Railways management agency, is under threat of closure, or at least significant job losses as orders dry up.

Evening sky over the cathedral at Derby showing Derby Cathedral by night
Darkening skies over Derby, just as Great British Railways prepares to take up residence in the city

Just over six weeks ago, the Railway Industry Association published a report on the UK rolling stock market. It highlighted the fact that the only significant order in the last three and a half years was the HS2 order announced in December 2021. The report warned that previous orders would soon be completed and consequently factories and upgrade facilities across the country will be empty, putting at risk thousands of jobs.

“The potential job losses in Derby being urgently discussed by the Department for Transport and Alstom”, said Darren Caplan, the RIA Chief Executive. “[There is] of course a real cause for concern for the company, rail manufacturers more widely, the [English] Midlands, and the UK railway industry generally. We highlighted just six weeks ago that rail manufacturing jobs were in jeopardy, that skills and experience could be lost. There was a risk of factory closures unless urgent decisions were taken this year to upgrade or replace trains. In July we said that government decisions were needed imminently to allow the procurement and private financing of rolling stock to be upgraded or replaced.

Needlessly anxious future

The Railway Industry Association report, published in July, highlighted the serious consequences of indecision. “The UK Rolling Stock Industry: Making 2023 the year of opportunity not crisis”, said that the loss of skills and experience which will be difficult to replace when they are inevitably needed again. This will result in increased costs in the long-run. “In the long term, we urge the Government, working with the railway industry, to develop a strategy which creates a smoother order profile for upgrading older trains and building new trains”, added Caplan. “[That will give] rail suppliers the confidence to invest in people, plant and processes for a sustainable train manufacturing capability in the UK.”

Figures from the RIA show that the manufacturing side of the industry employs over 30,000 people and contributes something approaching two billion pounds (2.32 billion euro) to the UK economy annually in gross value added. That, say the RIA, needs decisions on the building and renewing of rolling stock to be taken immediately, otherwise events in Derby will be repeated, and rail workers and factories throughout the rail supply chain will face a needlessly anxious future.

Author: Simon Walton

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

5 comments op “UK train factories at risk of closure”

jamie lew|19.09.23|09:05

Without HS2, old rolling stock could of been a priority, keeping the manufacturing industry with plenty of orders and improving the existing public transport, plus jobs and apprenticeships for the uk industrys future.
Especially with cars being forced off the road with ulez, caz, 20mph limit, high fuel cost and increased road fund licence.
Dont you just love this government!

Michael Pease|19.09.23|20:27

The rail industry in Britain is in desperate need of long-term planning of both infrastructure and rolling stock. This would encourage substantial investment in manufacturing machinery and the training and recruitment of new staff. Instead, government looks no further than the five year life of a parliament and the Treasury is obsessed with short term cash saving which actually raises long term costs.

Roy Gregory|20.09.23|07:06

Why is it that the government has to keep baling out all these companies, the rail network is owned by the government, the rolling stock is private companies,.

Paul Sanderson|20.09.23|12:05

Look no further than the privatisation of railways and the horizontal rather than vertical division of the industry.

Rob Needham|30.11.23|15:33

Alstom is a large global company with sales and activities in many countries. They could choose to use the Derby factory to fulfil rolling stock orders for other countries.

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