Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Metaphor At Platform 10 Will Be Departing in 2 Minutes..

It’s a Bulletin train adapted to British conditions. They call it the Javelin. Neat, isn’t it? Sleek, stylish, modern and all ready to whisk people from Kings Cross/St.Pancras to the 2012 Olympics in 7 minutes.

That would be the Olympics at Stratford, built on a site which used to make locomotives when the Olympics were last here in 1948 according to Jonathan Glancey.

Glancey implies that we don't make trains any more so these ones were imported from Japan*. Never mind, I'm sure someone in the City of London arranged the financing deal, insured it and offset the risk with some clever derivative instrument.

But now the City's buggered, might it just be an idea to have an industrial policy which worked to turn that situation around, so we could build more stuff like this? Or even, somewhat more to the point, stuff like Vestas wind turbines? Go look at the Vestas 2008 order book at the bottom of this page: not one order from Britain. 240 wind turbines ordered by China.

P.S. I see the workers occupying Vestas on the Isle of Wight now have their own blog. (via). Is it too late to organise a write in campaign to get this in the top ten political blogs?

*I'm told this is not so - see comments from John B


  1. We don't make trains any more so these ones were imported from Japan.

    Apart from the new trains on the Victoria Line, the Metropolitan Line, the Hammersmith & City Line, the District Line, the Overground and the Thameslink. And the fleet of high-speed electric trains we're exporting to South Africa.

    Part of the reason Hitachi won the contract for these was that British train-making was at capacity and will be for the next couple of years (part of it was that although we're pretty excellent at electric commuter trains, 140mph bullet trains aren't really our area of expertise).

    But yes, agreed on the turbines.

  2. John,
    I took the assertion directly from the Guardian article. I accept your correction, and have made a small change to the posting. Your comment has made me look into the matter a little more. The Railway Industry Association lists four UK based manufacturers of rolling stock.

    *Voith Turbo is German owned and supplies parts, but also makes locomotives in Kiel, Germany.

    *W.H. Davis Ltd makes freight containers.

    *Alstom Transport employs approximately 2000 people at over 20 different locations and makes Pendolinos and stock for the Julibee line: it appears to be French owned, but I’m not 100% sure of that.

    *Bombadier seems the largest firm, with a world wide work force of over 34,000, primarily in Europe. Its headquarters are in Germany. They lost out to the Japanese firm in the competition to supply these Javelin trains. They seem to make both lightrail (‘metro’) and intercity (‘voyager’/’super voyager’/ ‘turbostar’/ ‘electrostar’) trains in the UK.

  3. Alstom is indeed French owned.

    And is a rather good example of 'picking winners'.

    Bailed by the French Government in 2004 (by Finance Minister Sarkozy). Widely attacked at the time.

    As of now. Can't but it bettter than:

    The French maker of power plants, turbines and trains is hiring 1,000 people a month worldwide to work through a 47 billion-euro ($59.2 billion) backlog and the CEO anticipates a further boost as governments from the U.S. to France increase infrastructure investment to weather the global economic decline.


  4. "British train making was at capacity and will be for the next couple of years"

    That's only part of the story, JohnB. We are at capacity because there is only one trainbuilding factory left, which is Bombardier at Derby (formerly British Rail Engineering Ltd). Bombardier is Canadian but its rail manufacturing arm is headquartered in Berlin. (A clue to why that is is in the firm's previous name of Asea Brown Boveri Daimler Benz (ADTranz). )

    We have only one factory left because the wonderful Alstom shut its Birmingham Washwood Heath plant after completing the order for Pendolino carriages. This famous old carriage works was bought from Metro Cammell in 1989.

    It is widely considered that the feast then famine pattern of train orders that has accompanied Britain's bizarre experiment in rail privatisation has cost at least two of the major works that could have survived so that our capacity could have been enough to be building more trains at a given time than we currently can.

    The reason why there are no British-owned firms that can build decent quality trains is wrapped up in the story of the national industrial catastrophe that is the story of companies like GEC.

  5. But ownership is irrelevant - the concentration of skills is relevant.

    Washward Heath closed because it was Alstom's least efficient plant in Europe; even the Pendolinos were shipped there in kit form from factories in France and Italy and bolted together, with all the design work done abroad. The new generation of high-speed trains, which Hitachi has won a provisional contract to built, will most likely be assembled in the UK in the same fashion.

    Derby, on the other hand, is a major design centre for Bombardier in Europe as well as a manufacturing plant. The trains made there incorporate some components from other Bombardier divisions - but the plant also exports components to other Bombardier divisions.

    So the high-tech manufacturing and industrial design jobs that having a train industry creates exist in Derby, even if the parent company is Canadian.

  6. Well I was in a train from Ipswich which went past Stratford on the way to Liverpool Street a few weeks back. It was a rickety cramped slow thing which would have shamed most country Suffolk buses. This is part of the notorious National Express fleet.