Bombardier completes first new carriage within a year of signing deal
IF there was any further evidence needed to justify the future preservation of Britain's train manufacturing industry, it could be found at the end of a production line at Bombardier's Derby factory yesterday.
In the gleaming livery of train operator Southern Rail, with the smell of new upholstery wafting down the aisle, stood the first carriage of 130 to be completed at the Litchurch Lane plant.
The past troubles of Bombardier have been well documented.
Missing out on lucrative government contracts, such as the InterCity Express Programme and Thameslink, to foreign competition were major blows to the Derby plant.
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The long-term future of the factory is still by no means certain – but, in the meantime, its 1,600 workers are focusing their energies on making the best trains they can.
Yesterday, officials from Southern visited the factory to inspect the first completed Electrostar carriage out of their order, which they placed 12 months ago.
They were impressed -– not only with the quality of the trains but also the speed with which the Bombardier workforce was turning around the £188 million contract.
To have the first carriage built within a year of the contract being signed is considered something of a rarity in the rail industry.
Gerry McFadden, fleet director for Southern, said he was impressed by Bombardier's ability to meet the tight time scale and deliver "a quality product".
He said: "I'm absolutely delighted with the quality of the finished product. Bombardier has delivered the first carriage in record time.
"We have a great partnership with Bombardier. We already have hundreds of their trains in operation and their reliability is second to none."
The Southern order has helped keep Bombardier's Derby plant busy throughout what has been some of the most challenging times for the Litchurch Lane site.
Last year, the Derby factory was in a dark place.
It suffered the hammer blow of missing out on the £1.4 billion Thameslink deal for 1,200 carriages, which the Department for Transport controversially awarded to Siemens, which intends to build the trains in Germany.
This followed another government decision to award the £4.5 billion InterCity Express Programme to a consortium led by Japanese firm Hitachi.
As a result of the Thameslink decision, Bombardier halted its apprenticeship programme, laid off 1,000 temporary staff and launched a review of its UK operations.
Salvation, or at least a temporary reprieve, came in the form of the order from Southern.
It was a timely contract win, which almost certainly helped play a part in Bombardier's decision to keep Litchurch Lane open – at least until 2014.
It is clear now that, with the Southern order, the Bombardier workforce has a point to prove.
Dave Hunt, 49, a contractor working on the Southern production line, said: "We're really busy – which is the best way to be.
"Derby is capable of making some of the best trains around and to deadline.
"Morale at the factory is very good. We are well up for this."
Andy Harrison, 27, of Chaddesden, is a team leader on the Southern production line.
He spent four years at Bombardier before leaving the company. But just under three months ago, he rejoined the company to work on the Southern contract.
He said: "It's great to be working on a new contract.
"We are working really hard to fulfil this contract on time and prove that we make the best trains in the world here in Britain.
"Of course, there have been some tough times but we have got through that phase. I believe that we now have a bright future."
That bright future could come in the form of some further good news from Southern.
Last month, the train operator announced that it was considering taking up an option for a further 40 Electrostar carriages.
The work would be worth £60 million and bring the total number of Electrostars on order to 170. It is understood that confirmation of this deal is imminent.
Further down the line, there is also the possibility of Southern ordering a further 200-plus carriages – a deal that could be worth hundreds of millions of pounds to Bombardier if it wins the work.
Southern has said it is developing proposals with the DfT for a new order for 116 electric (dual voltage) carriages, with an option for a further 100.
The operator has said the extra carriages would help the Government address "the wider rolling stock needs of the country".
The cost of that deal has not yet been revealed. But Southern says it intends to launch a new procurement competition for the work and Bombardier is likely to be in the running.
Southern said the order would rely on the DfT accepting the business case for the new vehicles and agreeing amendments to its franchise agreement.
Francis Paonessa, president of UK rolling stock at Bombardier Transportation, said: "I'm delighted that the first Southern carriage has been completed ahead of schedule.
"We have been set a very tight time scale to manufacture these trains but thanks to a real team effort the workforce is rising to the challenge.
"The speed at which these trains are being built and the quality that is being put into them is testament to the skills of the Derby workforce.
"The factory is busy. Production of the Southern order will ramp up next year to the point where we will be producing up to five carriages a week. At the same time, work continues on the massive Sub Surface Line contract for Transport for London."
Going forward, the big prize for Bombardier is the £1 billion Crossrail deal.
Crossrail is the next major government contract.
Bombardier is throwing its hat into the ring and will be hoping for a more positive outcome than it got with the Thameslink contract.
Many feel that the long-term future of Litchurch Lane is dependent on Crossrail. An announcement on who has won that work is expected in 2014.
The bidding process for Thameslink had been criticised because it did not take into account the social and economic impact of each bid.
Despite government reassurances, there are nagging concerns among some industry insiders that the Crossrail tender document will be similar to that of Thameslink. As one of the bidders, Bombardier is restricted as to what it can say about Crossrail.
Mr Paonessa said: "We are bidding to win the next major government rail contract, which is Crossrail, and I believe we have a strong bid.
"In the immediate term, we are delighted at Southern's intention to order extra Electrostars."