The Department for Transport’s 2013 decision to award the £1.6bn Thameslink trains contract to Siemens was widely viewed as something of a disaster for Bombardier, the UK’s last remaining train manufacturer.
In truth, the Derby firm had been all but ruled out of the bidding process as early as 2011 when Siemens was awarded preferred bidder status. And despite being hailed by then transport secretary Theresa Villiers as representing “the best value for money for taxpayers” the decision pushed Bombardier’s historic Litchurch lane works to the brink, led directly to the loss of 1,400 jobs, and prompted wider questions about whether government procurement practices were letting down British industry.
Yesterday’s announcement from Transport For London that Bombardier has won the £1bn contract to build the Crossrail fleet, is therefore a welcome shot in the arm for both the Canadian-owned train manufacturer, Derby and the UK’s fragile rail sector in general. A failure to award the contract to the British firm would also have been hugely embarrassing to a government that has repeatedly pledged to put manufacturing at the heart of a rebalanced UK economy.
Having beaten off stiff competition from Japan’s Hitachi and Spanish firm CAF, the Derby firm will – assuming the 10 day standstill period passes without any hiccups – supply, deliver and maintain 65 trains as well as build a new maintenance depot at Old Oak common in North West London. The deal is expected to support over 1000 jobs and around 100 apprenticeships, and with Bombardier claiming that around three quarters of the contract spend will remain in the UK economy, it represents great news for the firm’s supply chain.
Beyond this, the deal also arguably broadens the impact and national relevance of Crossrail, and – with the hand-wringing over HS2 continuing – provides a timely reminder of the kind of spin-off economic benefits that can be generated through sustained investment in infrastructure.
With Crossrail expected to begin operating towards the end of 2018, Derby’s skilled rail engineers look set for an exceptionally busy time, and we look forward to covering this British manufacturing success story in detail over the coming months and years.