Huge investment coming down the track but our rail firms are told they 'need to compete' to win contracts
Speaking at the Derby and Derbyshire Rail Forum's annual conference, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin set out the role the county could play in the renaissance of rail in Britain. Robin Johnson reports.
SOME of us will be old enough to remember the old British Rail advertising slogan "This is the age of the train".
That was more than 30 years ago. But today, the UK's rail industry is on the verge of a second coming.
And according to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, it is good news for Derby, the East Midlands and the UK.
Yesterday, the MP for Derbyshire Dales took that message to hundreds of delegates from the local rail industry at the Derby and Derbyshire Rail Forum's annual conference.
The event, held at Derbyshire County Cricket Club's ground in Derby, brought together several companies that could stand to benefit from the Government's massive investment in rail.
Derbyshire is home to the largest cluster of rail companies in the world, the majority of which are represented by the rail forum.
Many of these firms are involved in projects across the globe. But the Government's plans to invest billions of pounds in the UK rail network means that, over the next 20 years, there could be opportunities for new work closer to home.
The electrification of large stretches of the existing rail network and High Speed 2 are just two major examples.
Last month, Mr McLoughlin announced the preferred route for phase two of the £32 billion project, which by 2033 will pass through the East Midlands.
Included was a proposal to site a HS2 station serving the region at Toton Sidings, 10 miles from Derby. It had been hoped that Derby would be the location for the station – and there are now concerns the city will be left out on a limb unless a link, such as a high-speed tram, is created between Derby and Toton.
Speaking yesterday, Mr McLoughlin defended the decision to site the HS2 East Midlands station at Toton and vowed to work with local authorities to come up with the best way of linking the city with the proposed station site.
Mr McLoughlin said: "Toton will serve the East Midlands. HS2 is not just about serving cities, it is about serving the regions.
"There are good reasons for siting the station at Toton – it is 10 miles from Derby and Nottingham. The consultation period has started. We will work with local authorities and the Local Economic Partnership to work out the best strategy for linking the Derby area to Toton."
In the shorter term, Mr McLoughlin said Derby would benefit from the electrification of the Midland Main Line, which will result in a faster, quieter, greener line that is cheaper to run.
Last month, Network Rail, the company that runs the UK rail network, formally submitted its plans for the route, which would cost £514 million, to the Office of Rail Regulation for approval.
Although they welcome the Government investment, some Derby rail firms believe many of the projects are too far down the line to have any immediate benefit to them.
Among the Derby rail firms represented at the conference, and which could potentially benefit from the Government's investment, was DeltaRail, which is based on Pride Park. It offers a range of rail services and products, including signalling control software, track data and train maintenance. Investment director Graham Scott said: "We have a turnover of £30 million. We are investing £4 million in new technology. But it is difficult to plan ahead because some of these projects are so far away."
Mr McLoughlin said: "Investment is vital as far as the rail industry is concerned.
"We've now got the biggest investment programme since the Victorian era. We have the major electrification of lines south to north, the £4.5 billion Intercity Express Programme, a £500 million rail link from Heathrow to the west, £900 million for smaller schemes, Crossrail, Thameslink and of course, the electrification of the Midland Main Line.
"I hope that Derby companies will grab some of the opportunities coming from this massive investment. But there will be competition – and Derby companies will need to compete."
Douglas Oakervee, non-executive chairman of HS2 Ltd, the company that is responsible for delivering HS2, told the conference: "It is understandable that the industry will demand that the delivery of the work should be steered towards British manufacturers. We can't make the commitment that will happen.
"But we will do everything possible to make sure the UK rail industry is well-placed to compete. But please remember that we must comply with EU procurement laws."
Colin Walton, rail forum chairman and former boss of Derby train-maker Bombardier, said: "There is a huge investment programme ahead of us. Yes, we'd like to see it happen sooner. But I'm sure the Derby and Derbyshire Rail Forum will play a role in that.
"If there is a single message I have for Mr McLoughlin it is that if there was one single contract to deliver the railway of the future, then the Derby and Derbyshire Rail Forum would be able to deliver that contract. We have the skills and knowledge to do it all."