Much heat has been generated over the award of the contract to build around 1,200 rail vehicles for the Thameslink route, basically the commuter service that runs between Bedford, central London and Brighton, to Siemens rather than to Bombardier, who would have built the trains at Derby, rather than in Germany.
But very little attention has thus far been paid to the conduct of Bombardier Transportation, which has not been universally beneficial to some of the European countries in which it operates – or no longer operates. Because this is a company with established form for buying up firms and then closing them down.
Bombardier told that its plants in Berlin were surplus to requirements: there was too much capacity and not enough demand. So the sites were left to Swiss manufacturer Stadler, who are expanding capacity by 50% and even adding an extra site to their facilities around the city.
Stadler, who had not previously been a serious player in the train building market, also benefited from Bombardier’s actions in Switzerland – a country, one might note, that is not in the EU – where the latter bought and then closed down companies like Schindler and SLM. The Swiss demand for Bombardier’s offerings has, not surprisingly, declined substantially.
Bombardier also ceased to be flavour of the month in Portugal, after they bought up Sorefame, whose distinctive Budd-style stainless finish can still be seen on many of the country’s trains, and then closed and asset-stripped the factory. Fortunately, substantial engineering capability was retained by operator CP at its Entroncamento site. A recent order for electric locomotives went to Siemens, not Bombardier.
Which brings us back to the UK, where Bombardier have deliberately run down the works at Crewe – repair work ceased last year after management apparently lost interest, with machinery removal following – and many of the buildings have been demolished. The present work, on bogies and wheelsets, could end at any time.
And management at Bombardier will not be too fussed if Derby follows Crewe into a slow decline. Already rumours are rife that part or all of the Crewe site is to be sold off for other uses, and thus Bombardier will retain rights to the technology, maximise their return, and retain shareholder value. Meanwhile, politicians will squabble among themselves and miss the main event.
With the workforce, of course, screwed over either way. Such is life.
[Strangely, there was rather less fuss over French-owned Alstom ending their production of rail vehicles in the UK in 2005 when the former Metro-Cammell site at Washwood Heath, Birmingham was closed]