Making trains

Bombardier_logoFinally, some good news for UK manufacturing. Bombardier, the Canadian engineering firm, which owns the former British Rail train factory in Derby, has won the competition to supply 66 units to Crossrail opening in 2017 (impression, below right). They beat off competition from Siemens and Hitachi. The former recently won the contract to make the Thameslink trains. Hitachi trains can be seen running on HS1 between St Pancras and Dover.

Whilst I understand that competition is necessary when placing orders for expensive long-lived kit to ensure some Crossrail trainsdegree of value-for-money and quality (British Rail supplied to itself a lot of over-priced un-tested stock in the 1950s that very quickly found itself decommissioned), I despair at the ease with which much of the UK’s supply comes from abroad. The train building capacity and capability in the UK has been lost.

I despair even more, however, at the madness that the structure of the railway industry in the UK. This week, we learned who were the preferred bidders for the re-privatisation of the East Coast Mainline ‘franchise’ between London, the North of England and Scotland. The current operator, EastCoastDirectly Operated Railways (DOR), has been running the route successfully and profitably since National Express handed back the keys, so-to-speak, in 2009 after they failed to deliver the returns to the UK Treasury pledged in the contract (DOR has returned some £600m to the Treasury so far). National Express replicated the error made by its predecessor operator, GNER, that equally over-stretched itself and delivered those very same keys back to Department for Transport a couple of years earlier.

Three private-sector charlatans will slug it out in a race to the bottom. Here they are:

East Coast Trains Ltd/FirstGroup the very same that submitted an unsustainable bid for the West Coast route leading to a collapse in the bidding and its re-run at our expense (see post, 15 August 2012) .

Keolis/Eurostar East Coast Limited (Keolis (UK) Limited and Eurostar International Limited) – a nice little pairing of the soon-to-be-sold off British bit of Eurostar – the remainder is SNCF oddly publicly owned but allowed to run trains in the UK – and Keolis, a global French-owned public transport operators that ‘thinks like a passenger’. Apparently. They have a stake in the Southern Franchise that I use. If that is thinking like a passenger, this route is destined for exemplary bad service.

Inter City Railways Limited (Stagecoach Transport Holdings Limited and Virgin Holdings Limited) – ah yes, Richard Branson who is currently carving up a nice slice of the UK National Health Service for his ‘health’ business as well as good at picking up cheap banks that once were mutual (now Virgin Money). A favourite of a succession of UK Souter_Gloaggovernments. And the brother and sister partnership of Brian Souter and Anne Gloag (right), the Perth-based tycoons who peeled off (allowed by the UK Government) much of the UK bus industry when it – or rather the land that housed depots, workshops and bus stations – was given away in the 1980s. It’s not their fault, we invited them to do it. But should they win, they will control all services to north of Border as they already command the rails on the parallel West Coast, at least for the time being.

Readers interested in DOR’s performance can get a summary here

Pictures: Bombardier Trains: www.crossrail.co.uk; East Coast trains: www.rail.co.uk; Souter/Gloag: This is money: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/article-1201254/Stagecoach-pair-18m-court-battle-disappearing-fortune.html

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