More trains for Elizabeth line could help save UK rail building

Peter Stonham
25 April 2024


An order by Transport for London for ten more Class 345 nine-car electric multiple units to match the continuing passenger growth on the Elizabeth Line could be a vital lifeline for Alstom’s Derby rail works, but discussions are continuing about funding and the price.

It comes as fears continue about the future of the UK’s three train-building factories of Alstom (formerly Bombardier), Hitachi, and Siemens, all running short of orders.

The TfL order would help to bridge the gap at the now empty factory, which delivered its last Aventura train on March 21, and the start of work on HS2 trains which Transport Secretary Mark Harper has said will be in “early 2026”.

There has been industry and political pressure on Harper, after news that Alstom had started redundancy consultation for its 1,300 manufacturing staff and fears for 12,000 jobs in the wider UK supply chain.

In a letter to Derby North MP Amanda Solloway on April 16, Harper disclosed that the Department for Transport has “secured approval in principle”

to fund a further five Class 345s for the Elizabeth Line, in addition to five “confirmed in March” and “subject to confirming a business case”.

Harper said that when meeting Alstom UK & Ireland MD Nick Crossfield and Alstom CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge, he “made it clear” that the “onus is on Alstom” to provide “competitive prices and full transparency on its costings” to enable this to “progress to a satisfactory and swift” conclusion.

Although reopening the production line for just 19 vehicles would not be sufficient to keep the factory running, Crossfield said that a smaller order would enable Alstom to transfer work from elsewhere in the group into Derby, to bridge the gap.

Harper later posted on social media site X, formerly Twitter, that he had had “a good, constructive meeting with Alstom “ and “intensive discussions are taking place, to conclude no later than the end of May.”

TfL has been actively lobbying for additional rolling stock for the Elizabeth Line, now Britain’s busiest rail network. The line’s success has led to services operating at near capacity during peak hours. There have also been proposals to extend services to new destinations. Capacity issues will only increase when HS2 Birmingham services commence from the interim terminus at Old Oak Common in 2029.With passenger growth on the Elizabeth line ahead of predictions, the existing 70-strong Aventra fleet will be insufficient to meet demand.

TfL anticipates approximately 53,000 Elizabeth Line passengers travelling eastbound between Old Oak Common and Paddington during the morning peak, with 49,000 passengers travelling westbound between Paddington and Old Oak Common during the evening peak to connect with HS2 services.

In a report last summer London transport commissioner Andy Lord confirmed TfL and DfT officials had been working closely on plans for more rolling stock and the government had endorsed the strategic business case. Alstom’s Crossfield has already promised that if Derby remains open, it could become the Alstom Group’s centre for the design and development of the new Adessia EMU platform - the Aventra’s successor.

It is understood Harper has now sought confirmation of this from Alstom in writing.

Harper also repeated his assertion that there is a “strong pipeline of orders” for new trains over the next “two to three years” although no tenders have yet gone to the market.

Calling on the DfT to “urgently bring forward invitations to tender for new procurements”, Railway Industry Association CEO Darren Caplan added: “Suppliers across the UK will hope current discussions between ministers and all train manufacturers achieve a positive outcome. The future of rail businesses of all sizes, factories and jobs depends on the decisions taken by the Government now.”

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