Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Nigel Harris – the voice of reason

Posted in Business, Great Britain, Media, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 20 July 2011

I read Nigel Harris’ editorial in Rail last night, in which he devoted two pages to the Bombardier situation. It is good that he is around providing a level headed voice of reason in situations like this, trying to counterbalance the screaming hysteria of both the trade unions and certain elements of the “popular press”, who see massive “EU conspiracies” in virtually everything that the government (of whichever colour) does. While I won’t go into the whole thing in enormous detail, as it would be just as easy for you to simply go out and buy a copy yourselves, there are points that are worthy of illustrating:

  • The purely economic argument, which stated that the Siemens bid was the best in terms of value for money, falls down in the event of Litchurch Lane closing and its workforce being laid off, which would also have the knock-on effect of hurting the wider manufacturing chain around Derby that relies on the carriage works.
  • The UK does not have the best record when it comes to rolling stock orders; described as being of the “feast and famine” variety, there is never a steady flow, but rather gluts of massive orders followed by major droughts when nothing is ordered (it is now more than 800 days since the last concrete train order was made). Siemens and Alstom are insulated from this thanks to reasonably constant orders from Europe.
  • Bombardier is not helped by the British loading gauge being smaller than the rest of Europe; here the example is given of Siemens being able to build the Class 380 at its factory at Krefeld, test it at the Wildenrath test track and then ship it via the Channel Tunnel. For Bombardier to build stock for the European market, it would need to transport each vehicle by road to a port and send it by sea, as European trains would not fit the loading gauge here.
  • Bombardier has made a rod for its own back by some significant cock-ups recently; the Class 172 deliveries are badly behind schedule owing to the exhaust problem that never was, which has led to cascades not being able to take place on time.
  • The tendency of the government to roll its eyes whenever an operation like Bombardier states that, if it does not receive big deals it will be forced to close and lay off workers (a course of action that unions are familiar with).
  • Neither Siemens nor the government should be punished for simply following the procurement criteria laid out by the previous government, using which Siemens did indeed produce the better bid.

Unquestionably this is an emotive issue. Any situation where people lose their jobs is bad, but when it is highly skilled workers, this makes it all the more tragic. It is good that the Roads Man recognises this and has made a commitment to ensuring the future of Litchurch Lane, and hopefully good ideas will be brought to the fore sooner rather than later (like the Pacer replacement for example , which I suggested and which Nigel Harris also includes). It is at this time that rational thought needs to be put in place, and the likes of Leo McKinstry shut up with their emotional rhetoric – the Thameslink deal is done and no amount of shouting and screaming by the Labour Party or the unions or the tabloid press is going to change that. The question now is what’s next?

“Last orders for Bombardier?”
“We must stand up to Brussels over Bombardier job”

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