Bottlenecks in HS2 project threaten UK rolling stock production

Bottlenecks in the UK HS2 project threaten UK rolling stock production. Alstom is to halt all production at its plant in Derby, UK, and resume redundancies following a glitch in orders for rolling stock for the HS2 high-speed project.

The company has issued a notice to workers confirming that it will idle production operations and resume redundancy consultations, according to the Derby Telegraph.

Alstom, Derby’s under-pressure train manufacturer, has confirmed it has resumed the redundancy consultation process after failing to secure work to build new trains that would fill the production shortfall between now and mid-2026, when an order to build HS2 trains is due to start.

Bottlenecks threaten UK rolling stock production

A company spokesman also explained why a bid to build five trains was not enough to sustain Alstom or its supply chain over the next two years.

Derby City Council leader Baggy Shanker, who visited the Litchurch Lane site on Tuesday 2 April, also confirmed that the company had issued a notice to workers confirming that it would demobilise production operations and resume redundancy consultations. The site employs around 3,000 people and supports around 15,000 jobs in the wider supply chain.

For several months, there has been uncertainty over what will happen after the last new train rolled off the production line at Litchurch Lane on 21 March, with both the UK government and Alstom in talks to resolve the situation. The messages that have emerged have become increasingly bleak about the future of train building in Derby.

An Alstom spokesman said: ‘In January we stopped the consultation process on voluntary redundancies for permanent staff on the assumption that additional workload would be secured following ten months of intensive discussions with the government. We did not get that work, so we will now resume the consultation process on redundancies.”

Two weeks ago it emerged that five trains comprising 45 wagons had been offered to Alstom as a short-term solution, with the possibility of a further five being offered, but the spokesman said, “We had no problem with this: our discussions with the Department for Transport (DfT) focused on identifying work packages that could fill a production gap of around 27 months.”

“The five trains would provide a total workload of 45 individual wagons for a yard that has just completed 2,660 wagons in recent years. We have always been clear with DfT that for such a small order to be viable for the yard and our supply chain, this opportunity would need to go into production at around the same time as another potential opportunity (for another 50 individual wagons) which is under discussion, but for which we have not received a final and unequivocal decision.

“We were informed by the DfT last week not to expect such a decision for at least another four months. These two opportunities (totalling 95 individual wagons) should go into production at around the same time as they share the same ‘Aventra’ product and therefore a common supply chain. An order for the five trains alone cannot sustain the viability of Litchurch Lane or our supply chain for the next 27 months or so.”

There are currently completed trains undergoing final testing at the factory to enable them to enter service in the next few months.

The Alstom spokesman added: “There are currently no opportunities in the market for Alstom or other manufacturers to bid for a new fleet of trains. This is beyond dispute.

“The situation is simple. The DfT has publicly confirmed that it ‘expects’ more opportunities to arise this year (e.g. Chiltern, Northern and Southeastern) but has made no commitments on the timetable or when the contracts will be awarded. Indeed, we were told that the Southeastern opportunity would go to market at the end of February – it hasn’t yet.”

Two years without orders

“It takes, on average, three years from the launch of a competitive tendering process until the raw material reaches the plant. This is why we say Alstom does not have a committed workload until mid-2026 for HS2.”

Derby City Council leader Baggy Shanker, who spoke to workers and engineers at the factory during his visit, said it was “very quiet and the production lines empty”.

He said, “Today I heard the news I never wanted to hear. Alstom, which owns Derby Litchurch Lane, has issued a notice to all those working at the site, confirming that it will now decommission production operations at Litchurch Lane and resume a redundancy consultation for permanent production staff. The cessation of train production at Litchurch Lane after 147 years is terrible news for our town, for those who work at the site and their families, and for those who work for the facility’s countless suppliers. It is also terrible news for Britain.”

“Litchurch Lane is the largest train plant in the country and the only place where trains are designed and developed as well as built and tested. Today’s news doesn’t affect the hundreds of train designers working at the site, but personally I am also concerned about their long-term future if the production lines at Derby remain shut down for too long.”

Baggy Shanker said he was “frankly astonished that we are in this situation” and said Litchurch Lane is one of the company’s most important global sites. He added: “The future of the railway is bright, or should be. The Government rightly emphasises the importance of future rail procurement in the UK. New purchases take more than two years from contract award until they come on line. That’s why Litchurch Lane also needs short-term follow-on orders and options that can be on the production line in months, not years. Alstom has told the government it needs about 100 Aventra train carriages to keep the production lines running, but the government is only committing to about half that amount. Not only that, but Alstom has also committed to designing and building the Aventra’s successor, the Adessia, in Derby rather than abroad. Given what is at stake, it may not be beyond the intelligence of ministers and officials to find a solution, but they must act now.”

Derbyshire Live has contacted the DfT for comment on Alstom’s latest situation. A DfT spokesperson referred Derbyshire Live to a letter from the Secretary of State for Transport, Mark Harper, who posted a letter on X, formerly Twitter, in response to Labour’s calls to protect jobs at Hitachi in Newton Aycliffe and Alstom – and said he had nothing further to add to his letter.

In one part of it, Mark Harper said, “I am very aware of the challenges facing Alstom, Hitachi and their supply chains. Both companies face a short term labour shortage ahead of the start of work on HS2 rolling stock, for which they are a joint venture.”

He went on to say, “Our main priority is to help ensure that Alstom and Hitachi’s workforce is properly supported. Earlier this autumn we appointed a senior official to convene an intergovernmental working group to work with both companies and ensure that the government is properly prepared to help the workforce through this difficult period. This task force meets regularly to ensure comprehensive government support.”

The letter continues, “Ministers and officials have been in intensive discussions with both Alstom UK and Hitachi to help them identify viable and sustainable long-term options for their sites at Derby and Newton Aycliffe respectively. As for Alstom, my officials have been speaking to Unite and Derby City Council on a regular basis since last autumn to keep them updated on progress.”

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