There has been much excitement over the news that the fleet of new trains for Crossrail will not go out to tender until next year. This has been held to be A Very Good Thing, as it has been assumed that the tender documents are being framed so as to give Bombardier, as successors to British Rail Engineering (BREL) a better chance of landing the order.
And that assumption is totally misplaced. Bombardier was given every chance of matching the winning Siemens bid for the new Thameslink fleet, and declined so to do. Management at the firm’s Derby facility has also lost interest in refurbishment work. And the argument – advanced fallaciously in the Maily Telegraph – that Siemens had some kind of financial advantage has been subsequently demolished.
The thought that emerges from observing Bombardier’s recent behaviour in the UK – management at their Crewe site has also lost interest, this time in repair work – is that the company is not long for this country. It would not be the first time that Bombardier has acquired facilities, exploited them and then closed them down, as I noted recently.
What the Crossrail order will show is whether Bombardier is serious about staying in the UK. French owned Alstom, which has already withdrawn from manufacturing rail vehicles in the UK, has now dropped out of the race, leaving Siemens, Bombardier, Hitachi and Spanish builder CAF, who may not be a serious contender, but they do have recent experience in building vehicles for the National Rail network.
And, whoever gains the coveted preferred bidder status, the tender could be written to specify local content, such as final assembly. This would be, once more, held to favour Bombardier, but that need not prove true: Bombardier themselves did final assembly and finishing work on the Voyager and Meridian trains sourced from their Brugeoise works in Belgium – but not at Derby.
The realisation may eventually dawn on politicians, trades unionists, hacks and editors, and yes, the poor souls who work on their sites or depend on them, that Bombardier has no sentimental attachment to the UK, or indeed any other country. The firm has already closed facilities in Switzerland and Germany, and closed down and asset-stripped Portugal’s only train builder.
This is an organisation that buys up technology, exploits it, and ultimately disposes of spent assets once they are no longer worth the candle. The Crossrail order will reveal just how near to being spent the Derby facility has become.
[The final assembly of Voyager and Meridian trains was done at the ProRail plant near Wakefield. The facility has since been closed]