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Railways: Train Design

Volume 734: debated on Thursday 12 January 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the recent award to Bombardier of the contract for 130 new carriages, what further plans they have for maintaining train design or manufacturing capacity in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, we believe that in most cases the procurement of rolling stock should be led by the rail industry, but in cases where the Government are involved we will take on board the conclusions of the Government’s recent review of procurement to give suppliers confidence to invest in their capability to meet future demand by publishing pipelines of future government needs and taking action to remove barriers to growth.

The announcement of the new train order to Bombardier took place 1,000 days after the last order was placed. There is no doubt that the Government are deeply involved because the short term of franchises means that no rolling stock company can get its money back in the duration of the franchise. The Answer that I have been given is quite disingenuous. I really want some assurance that British industry will be supported. It has only 100 days work from this new order and it is time that something was done to extend that period.

My Lords, noble Lords will know that this Government have made considerable investment in the rail industry and will continue to do so. Noble Lords should also be aware that there is considerable refurbishment work available on the existing rolling stock in order to make it compliant with new accessibility requirements.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his first Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, demonstrates the inconsistency or lack of policy not only on who procures rolling stock but on who operates it and how many coaches there are? The OJEU notice on the First Great Western new franchise says in one paragraph that,

“the franchise operator will be expected to take responsibility for the provision of rolling stock”,

yet immediately follows that by saying that it will supply the IEP—the intercity train programme. How can any manufacturer or operator plan on such an inconsistent policy?

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that the IEP is in principle a bi-mode—electric and diesel—rolling stock project and is designed to run across several franchises. Central government therefore has to have an involvement. In general, it is a matter for the rail industry to procure rolling stock. However, central government has to ensure that the rolling stock contract is sustainable in case, as the operator of last resort, it has to step in and run the franchise.

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that the Treasury and the Scottish Government announced recently that they would each put £50 million into the refurbishment of Caledonian railway sleepers, which many of us are delighted about, particularly if we use them twice a week as I do. Will the new franchise agreement, which I think will follow in 2014, also enable the train operating company—whoever takes on that franchise or continues with it now—to get good value for any commensurate investment that it might make in parallel to provide a really superb service?

My Lords, the noble Lord has strayed a little from the Question, but I am confident that there is good news and I will write to him with further details.

My Lords, the House will recognise that the Government have had a somewhat torrid time with the carriage supply since the Siemens contract. However, would the Government take a constructive approach in these terms: can we not reduce the number of designs of carriages in order that suppliers work to a much more restricted form of contract and thereby provide much more cheaply the carriages that we all know we need?

On the noble Lord’s first point about the Siemens contract, he will understand that we operated the procurement process set up by the previous Administration. We look forward to the NAO investigation that will probably take place after the contract award in order not to interfere with the process. The noble Lord’s second point is an extremely good one. We have too many types of rolling stock. One difficulty is that the rolling stock has a 30-year life cycle and it is quite easy to end up with a large number of areas, but the noble Lord is absolutely right.

My Lords, does the Minister understand how important it is to place orders early to secure jobs in Bombardier and other places and to have long-term investment? Without that, who will take on apprentices or make a dent in the youth unemployment problem? We need immediate action by the Government to secure these news jobs and new youth employment.

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right in everything he says; that is why we have the Crossrail project and other large infrastructure projects. The mischief is the feast and famine, which I am sure all policy-makers over many decades have tried to avoid.

My Lords, a contract has recently been let to move spoil from the Crossrail system. This means moving stuff from central London to the Thames estuary. It will all be done by German ships with German crews. Bearing in mind what the Government intend to do to support British industry, will we be putting measures in place to help British shipping in the same way as the German Government do to support German shipping so that we are working on a level playing field?

My Lords, I am not aware of the particular issue to which the noble Lord refers. However, we have to be careful not to interfere inappropriately in favour of UK operators, otherwise we could fall foul of all sorts of regulations.