Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Do you get points for determination?

Posted in Europe, Great Britain, High Speed, Politics, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 9 November 2010

The Siemens/Alstom/Eurostar situation shows no sign of ending anytime soon. Having failed in their High Court bid to stop Eurostar’s planned purchase of ten “e320” trains based on Siemens’ Velaro, Alstom have now taken their complaint to the European Commission. The argument this time is that the tendering process did not comply with the procurement rules laid down by the EU, instead of an attempt to play the safety card (something that became moot after it was realised that Alstom’s AGV design, which they entered for the Eurostar bid, uses the same distributed power as the Velaro). The standard procurement rules for public projects state that a notice must be published in the Official Journal of the European Union. Instead, Eurostar engaged in a “market testing” process as part of the “Link-Up” system. This is an element of the UK’s rail industry that contains a list of registered suppliers – by negotiating with suppliers on this list, there is no need to issue a notice in the OJEU. As a consequence, when Eurostar decided that there was a business case for its order, both Alstom and Siemens submitted their best and final offers, of which Eurostar decided that Siemens’ was the best. Michel Barnier, the Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, originally indicated that he saw no problem with the procurement process, in particular Eurostar’s use of Link-Up. Now though it seems that the complaint made by Alstom “raised questions which do justify further investigation”. Is it a coincidence that the European Commissioner that would come to any decision on whether the procurement process is valid or not has been a minister in the cabinet under both Chirac and Sarkozy? Something I didn’t know is that Alstom have previous when it comes to legal challenges to procurement decisions that have gone against them. In 2005, Société de transport de Montréal selected Bombardier as the preferred bidder to supply new trains for the Montréal Métro, to which Alstom mounted a legal challenge, eventually forcing the whole bidding process to be started from scratch. Even this year, when Trenitalia awarded a contract for 50 new high speed trains sets to a cooperative between Bombardier and AnsaldoBreda, Alstom issued a legal challenge when it lost the bid. Of course, neither of those were instances of an SNCF concern not buying Alstom products, which this is, and which may explain why Alstom have refused to let go. One would hope that the evidence of the IGC (which plans to change the safety rules regarding distributed traction trains in the Tunnel) and the judicial finding by Mr Justice Vos (which stated that Alstom was the “author of its own misfortune” in not taking the process seriously enough, or at least as seriously as Siemens did), would be sufficient for the European Commission to once and for all tell Alstom to get stuffed. But you get the impression that there are sufficient vested interests in the political structure to ensure that this case will drag on so long that, like Montréal, the bidding process will end up being reopened. God knows what Alstom would do in that instance if Siemens was awarded the contract again.

“Alstom pursues Eurostar challenge”
“Montréal metro car order placed at last”
“Trenitalia signs V300ZEFIRO high speed train contract”

Will the European Commission end up coming down on the side of Alstom, and put the kibosh on Eurostar's planned e320?


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