Derby Rail Industry – Imagining Derby without trains?

Last night the Thameslink contract and Bombardier rail jobs in Derby were again making the headlines, at least on Regional TV.
The Derby Telegraph realises how this remains an important issue for Derby, with articles nearly every day mentioning Bombardier or train building.
And there are meetings most weeks of the Bombardier Support Group – which I have been attending.
But is it all a forlorn hope that anything can or will change? And what’s the real story behind the Government decision to award that contract to Siemens?
Back in 2009 the Government awarded a major inter-city train contract – about 1400 vehicles – to an Hitachi-led consortium. Derby felt aggrieved at this – Bombardier had also bid for this contract, and there were concerns then that there would be job losses in the UK as a result of this decision. Rail sector reaction to this is still available on the Rail News website.
In hindsight, Derby should have shouted louder then, and started campaigning. Instead it grumbled, and the Government ignored it.  Nothing changed in the way that rail contracts were constructed and assessed – and the next major rail contract, for Thameslink went out to tender.
Two years later Derby was still gently smarting from the Labour Government’s decision to favour Hitachi when the Thameslink decision came up for decision. It was no wonder that 10,000 people took to the streets of Derby to object when this contract was again sent overseas – to Siemens.
Yes, the Government could withdraw the ‘preferred bidder’ status they have given Siemens. This would be an extraordinary step to take. Maybe if Derby were closer to London they would have the courage to make such a decision, but the time frame for getting the Thameslink project running is tight, and cancelling the contract and retendering could mean it would be late, even very late.
So what other hopes are there for rail jobs, and rail design jobs, in Derby?
One of the priorities I’ve championed is to identify other rail contracts that are needed.
– The possibility to do an electrical conversion to some existing rolling stock sounds promising.
– The President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Railway Division raised the issue of braking standards and improvements – which also seemed to hold promise to me.
– Is there demand for more rolling stock elsewhere, the Nottingham Tram extension, or the Manchester Tram?
– Commuter trains into London are notoriously overcrowded; do they need more?
– Or the London Underground which also seems overstretched?
MPs and ministers are all aware of the issue – and maybe the change of personnel at the helm with Hammond moving on will allow a fresh look at priorities.
But maybe the biggest and best piece of news is the review of standard European contract procedures, which Liberal Democrat Vince Cable MP has successfully pressed for. That in future tenders will consider not just the simple financial implications but the wider picture of impacts on the local economy and also the future viability of UK manufacturing expertise and infrastructure. This is long overdue, and if this had been done back in 2008, we might not be campaigning for Bombardier now.
Meanwhile I look forward eagerly to know what this review will include – and just hope that Bombardier can pick up enough work in the UK to survive that long.

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