Now thrive the train builders – but for how long?

Hitachi’s UK plant: three Class 800 vehicles under construction for GWR inside the shops at Newton Aycliffe on 12 October 2017. Tony Miles

Over a coffee the other day, my old chum Jon Veitch, now Talgo’s Key Account Manager, UK & Ireland, was talking me through the Spanish company’s aspirations for the UK rolling stock market. Earlier this year, Talgo President Carlos de Palacio had visited the UK to promote the company’s ambitions.

These included plans to open a factory with a ‘fully localised supply chain’, to support its strategy of gaining a foothold in the British and Irish rolling stock manufacturing and overhaul markets. Around a dozen potential factory sites have emerged from discussions with local authorities, members of parliament and other stakeholders. The Leeds and Liverpool areas were mentioned.

Mr Veitch emphasised that the new plant would be a ‘proper factory’. Mr de Palacio had described it as handling ‘the whole train construction process, creating ‘hundreds of highly-skilled jobs and spurring the development of local talent’. ‘Tapping the renowned British components industry’ would also support Talgo’s global activities.


Meanwhile CAF, an established Spanish supplier to the UK rolling stock market, has already begun construction of a new factory at Newport, Gwent. This will employ 200 when it opens in autumn 2018, rising to 300 a year later.

CAF is spending £30 million on the new plant and is receiving ‘significant’ grant support from the Welsh Government’s Inward Investment Programme.

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones described the investment as ‘a major economic boost that we hope will kick-start the growth of our rail sector and create hundreds of highly skilled, very well paid jobs’.

The expectation is that the new plant’s first role will be assembling CAF’s new diesel multiple-units for the West Midlands franchise.

Finally, Alstom’s new Widnes plant, which will replace Strand Road Preston as the Group’s UK traction and rolling stock centre, has begun repainting the Virgin West Coast Class 390 Pendolino fleet. The facility has been planned for potential future expansion to accommodate rolling stock refurbishment or assembly. A rival rolling stock supplier admitted, rather sniffily, to being impressed with the way Alstom has spun a ‘paint shop’ into what an Alstom press release described as the ‘biggest and most sophisticated centre for train modernisation ever in the UK’.

But there is nothing wrong with starting small while thinking big. As Gian-Luca Erbacci, Senior Vice-President of Alstom in Europe, said at the formal opening: ‘we have already committed that if we win contracts like Transport for London’s Deep Tube Programme, we will build the new trains here’. And, of course, if the Siemens-Alstom merger is ratified, Siemens products could be assembled at Widnes to gain an Hitachi-style ‘Made in the North West’ sticker.

Inside Litchurch Lane: Class 387 vehicle for GWR at Bombardier’s Derby factory on 16 February 2017. The final day for Class 387 construction was 24 November 2017: the line has now turned over to Aventras. Philip Sherratt


So, the current boom in the UK rolling stock market is encouraging existing and new players to set up local facilities. But as I came away from my session with Jon Veitch, I was already wondering where the orders to fill these factories would come from.

Having analysed the impact of the plethora of new orders on existing rolling stock fleets in the October column, I opened a new worksheet in my ‘mass extinction’ spreadsheet to analyse the potential rolling stock requirements of those franchises still to be let. I also added London Underground and light rail systems to the list.

And, as I suspected, and Table 2 shows, from 2020 onwards there will be slim pickings.

Table 2 shows the franchises so far unaffected by the three mega-projects (Thameslink, Crossrail, Inter-city Express Programme) or the post-2013 replacement franchises involving the mass replacement of existing fleets. Table 3 summarises the likely total numbers.

First in line for new stock: the Piccadilly. This is Earl’s Court on 25 April 2016. Paul Bigland


Looking at the franchises in turn, Wales & Borders is the enigma.

The Valleys Metro is a known unknown both in scope and timing.

It is also highly political and with what could be a national flagship involved anything could happen. I have allowed a nominal figure in the metro cars total, but really, it’s anybody’s guess and there are also various potential refurbished EMU cascades.


CrossCountry plunges us into the Class 22x conundrum. These are the trains people love to hate: cramped, noisy, (insert personal criticism of choice).

Assuming DfT’s franchising policy continues to encourage mass replacement through the quality factor in bid evaluation, you could make a case for replacing the CrossCountry Voyagers, plus the handful of IC125s, with an homogenous fleet. But a fleet of what?

Obviously DfT would favour more bi-modes. But as I keep on pointing out, a bi-mode is either an underpowered DMU or an overweight, over-expensive EMU.

Yes, I know the argument that if and when the wires go up you can take out the engines, but the effect on vehicle dynamics of taking out 6-9 tonnes of power pack and fuel would require substantial changes to the running gear.

Aventra on the move: No 67006 Royal Sovereign powers away from Derby with the 7X42 Derby Litchurch Lane to Old Dalby Class 345 EMU transfer on 11 September 2017. Crossrail unit No 345016 is in tow. Steve Donald


Similar considerations apply to East Midlands Trains, where if you are replacing the IC125 fleet, you might as well get rid of the Meridians and, once again, achieve the maintenance engineers’ delight of an homogenous fleet. Transport ministers have promised bi-modes (make unspecified) on the Midland main line by 2022.

In a classic of disconnected thinking it is only just dawning on DfT that if (a) only replacement franchises can commit to new trains and (b) EMT is set to run to August 2019 and possibly into 2020, then (c) an incoming operator can’t procure new trains and have them delivered for 2022.

According to informed sources, now that the light has dawned some means of letting EMT procure the trains is being bodged up.

Finally there are Virgin West Coast’s tilting Class 221 Voyagers (the CrossCountry Class 221s have the tilt locked out). Here we run into the complexities of the new West Coast Partnership that will run an integrated Inter-city West Coast and High Speed 2 service from 2026. Currently the Voyagers run a high proportion of their miles under the wires, where their high power to weight ratio and tilt makes them a versatile piece of kit.

Ready for new build? Inside Alstom’s new plant at Widnes on 29 June 2016. Paul Bigland


While replacing the ‘22x’ fleets with bi-modes might improve passenger satisfaction, it would be unwise to rely on the cheap trains/cheap finance combo that has driven the current mass extinction of even brand new EMU fleets. My colleague Mr Walmsley has suggested that the alternative is to convert the ‘22x’ to bi-modes – possible because, unlike most other DMUs, they have electric transmissions supplied by Alstom.

This was the premise of Bombardier’s Project Thor touted in 2011. Also known as e-Voyager, this would have seen a new build of intermediate unpowered vehicles equipped as Pantograph/ Transformer cars to be inserted into Voyager formations, supplying the existing electric drives. In part, Thor was a response to the workload shortage facing Derby at the time and ran into all sorts of politics, including intra-industry rivalry between Bombardier and Alstom.

But, combined with radical interior refurbishment to soften the negative image, a revived e-Voyager could be worth throwing on the floor to see if the cat laps it up.

As Mr Walmsley notes, if you are not tilting, the extra coach does not have to have a Voyager profile.


No-one I speak to challenges the expectation that the upcoming replacement South Eastern franchise will see the Networkers go. Together with the HS2 conventional compatible fleet, these are the bankers in Table 2.

Finally, Table 3 includes an allowance for Class 150/153 replacement. In theory the Class 150s will go on forever with the occasional corrosion repair.

The single-car Class 153s serve a niche market and I can’t see anyone making a business case for a replacement compliant with PRM-TSI (the disabled access regulations).


At which point, please consult Table 4 – Captain Deltic’s Table of Doom. As CEO Alistair Dormer said in Keith Fender’s excellent feature on Hitachi in last month’s magazine, on the current order book Newton Aycliffe will be empty when the last of the IEP units for Inter-city East Coast are delivered in 2019.

Siemens’ deliveries end with the Class 313 replacement units for Govia Thameslink Railway a year earlier, but the German manufacturer doesn’t have a UK factory to feed.

Midland survivor: an HST set powered by Nos 43060 and 43046 storms through the Derbyshire countryside at Milford with a Sheffield to St Pancras International EMT service on 14 May 2017. Steve Donald

Bombardier looks more comfortable, but this conceals the classic boom and bust trap.

Aventra has seen off Siemens’ Desiro City in the latest EMU bidding rounds. But Bombardier is having to build these orders to short timescales.

Currently Derby has three production lines turning out Aventras. When the last Class 387 is delivered, the Electrostar line will be reconfigured to Aventra production too.

Now, Derby’s production system has a ‘beat rate’ equivalent to five vehicles a week – 250 vehicles a year from a single production line. Four production lines will have an output coming on for 1,000 vehicles a year.

And it must never be forgotten that the supply chain, employing far more people than the Derby Litchurch Lane plant itself, will have been gearing up to meet this output.

Now look at the numbers in Table 3 and you will see why South Eastern will be a must-win for Bombardier, too.


By investing in the Newport plant, CAF has created another hostage to fortune. If the plant enters full production in 2019 it will have two years to assemble 80 vehicles for West Midlands. Theoretically some of the fitting out of the Class 195 DMUs for Northern could be transferred to Newport to prime the pump. Class 150 replacement could be a job saver.

So the Networker replacement promises to be a fight to the death, with the future of factories at stake.

From past experience we can be sure there will be attempts to use political expediency to steer the order. Bombardier is a past master of the ‘give us the order or the kitten gets it’ lobbying technique. But now there are going to be three potentially homeless kittens, sitting meowing outside the Transport Secretary’s door.


So much for the main line operators. In addition to the Valleys Metro both the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and the Tyne & Wear Metro are planning replacement of their light rail vehicle fleets. Once again, the numbers are relatively small.

Here, Stadler is the agile furry mammal running in among the dinosaurs. While it helped trigger the original mass extinctions with its Flirts for Greater Anglia, its record of tailoring its technology to the foibles of the UK market in Glasgow and on Merseyside could be a significant advantage.

Stadler in partnership with Siemens is shortlisted for the Docklands Light Railway replacement order. The other potential bidders are Alstom, Bombardier and CAF.

CrossCountry Voyager: a double set stands in for an HST on a Plymouth – Edinburgh run on 2 September 2017. The train is pictured on the sea wall at Dawlish. Steven Fraser


Alstom was banking on London Underground’s Jubilee and Northern Additional Trains (JNAT) programme to get new train assembly started at Widnes. This useful little order has now been cancelled (‘News Front’). While a drop in passenger numbers on the tube this summer has been cited as the primary cause, the fact that the bids from Alstom and CAF were higher than expected can’t have helped.

That leaves LU’s Deep Tube Upgrade Programme (DTUP) – New Tube for London under the previous mayoral regime – as the order every manufacturer is lusting after. Bombardier and Hitachi will be bidding in joint venture. Siemens and Alstom might also team up if the merger goes through and the competition authorities don’t intervene. This could leave CAF bidding on its own.

With the nominal base quantity of 1,700 cars, according to TfL’s rounded fleet sizes, plus the prospect of a further 1,300 vehicles, this sounds like a bonanza on wheels. However, as Table 5 shows, it is an etiolated programme.

On borrowed time? Networker No 465008 arrives at Dartford with the 18.24 Gillingham to London Charing Cross on 21 July 2017. David Andrews


While not wanting to spread alarm and despondency, DTUP is currently showing signs of ‘sliding to the right’. As Table 5 shows, only the Piccadilly and W&C trains fit into my 2025 timeframe. Recent TfL documents suggest the W&C may be taking a place at the back of the queue, possibly as the line is being prepared for driverless operation (p8, supplement, last month). But increasingly, the order in which the lines are covered by DTUP is beginning to look like an academic question.

Anyway, let’s get the ‘Drain’ out of the way first. Stadler with Ansaldo STS is providing a trains and signalling package for the Glasgow subway (p66, October issue). If all works as planned, that sounds like a ready-made, low risk, off-the-shelf solution for the Waterloo & City.

Larger trains, of course, but it decouples W&C from DTUP and enables an optimised solution.

Of the three deep tube lines, the Piccadilly Line has the strongest business case. It is also the line most in need of extra capacity.

For example, TfL is out to consultation on the remodelling of Holborn station where, by 2031, demand is expected to increase by 20% in the morning and 29% in the evening peaks. However, the current limited fleet size and the inherent capacity constraints of the existing signalling system make an upgrade of the Piccadilly Line essential. New trains and resignalling would increase peak service frequency from 24 to 33 trains per hour, upping capacity by 60%.

However, while the Piccadilly Line component of DTUP is strong on paper, procurement has gone suspiciously quiet. Back in March a decision on the supplier of the new trains was due to be made in Quarter 4 2017. Announcement of a preferred bidder is now expected next year.

Similarly, three potential suppliers of the new signalling system, Alstom, Siemens and Thales, were shortlisted in 2016 and were supposed to have received the official Invitation to Negotiate in spring 2017. This had yet to appear as this column went to press early in November.

As jungle explorers remarked in those black and white B movies when the drums stopped, ‘It’s quiet, Carruthers, too damned quiet’. And I am not alone in suspecting that DTUP is, indeed, sliding to the right.

Some observers reckon new trains for the Picc won’t start appearing for another decade and the schedule for the other lines will be so strung out that DTUP will in effect be ditched and we’ll be back to a traditional line-by-line procurement.

All of which suggests that when you compare capacity against potential demand, the UK is not an ideal place to have a factory. And that’s before the Chinese decide to do more than display model trains on the largest stand at Railtex