Thousands of high-value manufacturing jobs are at risk because Britain’s largest train assembly plant is due to run out of work by the end of the year after delays in the contract to build high-speed rolling stock for HS2.
Ministers are being warned that if the factory, with a workforce of 2,000, is mothballed, 1,400 UK supply chain companies employing as many as 17,000 people also will be affected.
The Litchurch Lane works in Derby has been building trains since the advent of the railway boom during the Industrial Revolution. Since 2021 it has been owned by Alstom after its takeover of Bombardier. It is the French group’s single largest production facility worldwide and includes a workforce of 500 design engineers.
Most recently, the plant has supplied the fleet of 70 trains for the Elizabeth Line on London’s Crossrail network and has supplied London’s Underground and Overground services, as well South Western, Greater Anglia, West Midlands and the c2c Essex commuter lines. Two years ago it won Britain’s first train export order in more than a decade, supplying the Cairo monorail system in Egypt. However, that contract and existing British orders all come to a close by the end of this year.
It had been hoped that the £2 billion design-and-build contract for HS2, won in alliance with the Hitachi plant at Newton Aycliffe, Co Durham, would sustain the factory for years to come. However, the start of manufacturing for that has been pushed back to late 2026 because of delays in the construction of the HS2 high-speed line.
Alstom had been hoping, too, that it would win other contracts to replace or re-engineer the older diesel trains of CrossCountry and Chiltern Railways and to produce new rolling stock for Southeastern, but Department for Transport tenders for that work, delayed by the pandemic, have not been forthcoming.
“There is no pipeline of work for Derby from the first quarter of next year because of the delays and dithering,” Steve Turner, assistant general secretary for manufacturing at the Unite trade union, said. “This could be devastating for Derby and we could be looking at the destruction of the rail supply chain in general in this country.”
It is understood that Alstom is looking at plans to reduce the workforce at Derby after a lack of assurances from ministers. The company said: “Derby is very important to Alstom and to the UK rail sector. It is the only UK factory that can design, engineer, build and test trains for domestic and export markets.”
The transport department said: “Rail manufacturing plays an important role in growing the UK economy and delivering better services for passengers. The government remains committed to supporting the entire sector. We remain in contact with Alstom as it develops a sustainable future for its Derby site.”