Hybrid on Snowdon

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Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, and home of the only rack railway in Britain is about to get some new motive power.  Although steam is popular on many of the world’s rack railways, diesel power has gradually been adopted over the past few decades, and now as diesel’s reputation as a pollutant has soarded, hybrids are coming to the rescue.

In its 123+ year history, the 800mm gauge railway to the summit of Snowdon, this line has operated with 8 steam locomotives, all built by SLM in Switzerland, 5 diesel locomotives and 3 diesel railcars.  All of the railcars have been scrapped, along with the diesel-mechanical loco bought secondhand in 1949 have been scrapped.

Two of the steam locomotives – Nos. 7 & 8. built in 1922 and 1923 have been withdrawn and dismantled, with one of the remaining locos – No. 4 “Snowdon”, currently being overhauled.  The remaining steam locomotives remain operational, and all bar one are more than 100 years old.

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Built in Leeds by Hunslet in 1992, No12 is named after George Thomas, 1st Viscount Tonypandy. All four diesels are powered by a turbo-charged six-cylinder Rolls-Royce engine giving 319hp. Llanberis Station. Snowdon Mountain Railway. Wales. 26-5-2013                                                         By Alan Wilson – , CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26899289 

Of the remaining 4 diesel-hydraulic locos, two (Nos 9 & 10) were delivered in 1986, with Nos. 11 and 12, delivered in 1991 and 1992.  These are the newest locomotives – now approaching 30 years of age – in service on the line.

The Snowdon Mountain Railway (SMR) began looking into replacement locomotives five years ago, and this year named Clayton Equipment Limited of Burton-upon-Trent has been chosen as the preferred supplier.

Clayton are a specialist supplier of locomotive for mining, tunnelling, shunting and many other specialist rail applications.  This specialism includes bespoke battery hybrid battery-diesel designs, and the SMR’s  two new locomotives will be commissioned and ready for service for the start of the railway’s 2020 season in spring next year.

Clayton have been involved as a manufacturer in the railway industry since the 1930s, and through various changes of structure and ownership, and now once again as an independent company.

The new locomotives will be driven by High Torque, maintenance free electric motors, powered by traction battery and diesel generator. The diesel generator will be switched off whilst the locomotive is descending, as service braking recharges the battery ready for the next ascent.  It is anticpated that this new design will save costs on both maintenance and fuel, and as lower powered units, complying fully with Euro Stage V emissions requirements, less environmental impact too.

The train configurations with the new locos will also allow an extra 12 passengers to be carried on each trip.

New technology for the 21st Century on the UK’s only Abt rack railway, and hopefully too, continued success for both the SMR and Clayton Equipment.  We look forward to 2020 with interest.

Useful Links:

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St Rollox – Gone But Not Forgotten

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This month saw the last of the once huge manufacturing railway workshops in Glasgow closed.  The facilities were established in the Springburn district of the city by the Caledonian Railway in 1854, brining to an end the 169 year history of building, repairing and maintaining railway locomotives and rolling stock on a 15 acre site.  The St Rollox site was just one of three major sites in the area – the others being the former North British Locomotive Co works, which closed in the 1960s, and of course the Cowlairs Works.

Screenshot 2019-07-31 at 17.22.23As a loco works for the Caledonian Railway, it produced many fine steam types, but the works’ status changed dramatically after the grouping of 1923, and under the ownership of the LMS, no new building was carried out there after 1927.  As a workshop responsible for maintenance and repair, this was the position of St Rollox for the next 40 years.

At the time of nationalisation the works employed 3,382 staff, whilst neighbouring Cowlairs employed a little over 1,200 in 1949, with work being transferred away to Horwich.  Interestingly, at the time the staffing of railway works came under scrutiny, in 1962, both Cowlairs and St Rollox employed just over 1,900 on each site.  Plans were laid to modernise and re-equip the works, and in order to do that, most of the work in St. Rollox was moved temporarily into Cowlairs.  Once re-equipped the plan was to transfer all work into St. Rollox, and close Cowlairs. The new St. Rollox was re-named the Glasgow Railway Works – at least on paper. In addition to repairs and maintenence of motive power and rolling stock, manufacture light alloy containers and the repair of all signal and telegraph equipment was to be set up. The total labour force by 1966 will be approximately 2,800 men.

St Rollox in Glasgow’s Springburn area was at the heart of railway and locomotive engineering in Glasgow, and Scotland, the work to modernise the works was expensive, costing more than £1 million, but the eventual outcome was closure of Cowlairs in 1968. All of the Scottish works of BR were discussed in great detail during the 1960s, and the social and economic consequences of decisions taken in London were not lost on local MPs.

The same seems to be happening again in 2019.

05.06.82_Glasgow_St_Rollox_Works_26028_(6159479398)

Inside one of the workshops of BREL Glasgow St Rollox Works on an organised visit with the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society. Seen closest to the camera is 26028.           By Phil Richards from London, UK – 05.06.82 Glasgow St Rollox Works 26028, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26695179 

St Rollox became part of BREL with the 1980s restructuring of BR workshops, and following the privatisation of BREL in 1988 was operated purely as a rail maintenance facility by British Rail Maintenance Limited (BRML).

In effect St Rollox was closed in 1988 with the loss of 1,200 jobs.  That said, in the seven years that followed, much of what was the St Rollox site was sold off to developers, and occupied by a Tesco supermarket, Costco, Lidl, and a new Springburn fire station.  The rump of what was left for rail maintenance was sold off after privatisation, in 1995, to a Babcock/Siemens consortium.  In 2007 it was sold on again to Alstom, and finally to Railcare Ltd., which went into administration in July 2013.  The following month, the remaining works was purchased by Knorr-Bremse, who created Knorr-Bremse RailServices (UK) Ltd as a new rolling stock maintenance and repair company.  Five years later it was sold on to Mutares, a German based group specialising in acquiring low income companies, with a view to turning them into growing, and profitable enterprises.

The Mutares acquisition, and operation under the Gemini Rail Group  took pl;ace in late 2018, and by December, the new owner announced it planned to close the Springburn works.

The annoucement was greeted with dismay, and in the early hours of 14th January 2019, the MP Paul Sweeney made this observation:

In 2018, it was sold to another German company, an industrial turnaround specialist called Mutares. In November 2018, just a few weeks after its acquisition, it was formed into a newco known ​as Gemini Rail, which was a wholly owned subsidiary company of Mutares but also associated with Knorr-Bremse—for instance, sharing the same company house number. It is clear this has been an exercise conveniently designed to quickly rationalise their operations in the UK.

As at December 2018, St Rollox continues to carry out component and rolling stock repairs and overhauls. Recent work has included overhauls of class 156s, class 158s and Class 320s for Abellio ScotRail. It is the largest rolling stock repair site in Scotland. Two smaller sites in Kilmarnock are operated by Brodie and Wabtec respectively, and are still operating at capacity.

In December last year, shortly after acquiring the site, the new owner announced very suddenly that it planned to close the works, stating that it was making losses of between £3 million and £4 million.

At the time, St Rollox had barely 200 staff, but they would be the last to work at this famous site, if the closure went ahead.  As a final point in the January 2019 debate, Paul Sweeney made the following point:

The Minister is making a number of pertinent points, but the fundamental crux of this issue is that while it is a private decision for a private company at this point, it is clear that the company, ScotRail and Network Rail could work collaboratively to restructure the site to put it on a sound commercial footing and allow it to win business competitively. This is not about bailing something out or state aid for a failing industry; this is a kernel of expertise and a centre of excellence that could thrive with a restructuring of ownership.

However, despite the perhaps good intentions, and warm words from the Government spokesperson, the closure has gone ahead, and St Rollox is no longer a railway works, be it construction, or maintenance.  The skillsets remain, but it seems the desire to maintain a rail industry has all but evaporated.

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Useful Links & Further Reading

  1. An Illustrated History of British Railways’ Workshops; Edgar Larkin; Pub Ian Allan 1998
  2. St Rollox Railway Works: Closure
  3. St Rollox Railway Works closure threatens hundreds of jobs
  4. Save the Caley in Springburn

Long Rails from Austria

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Back in the 1980s, as manufacturing industry – especially the primary industries like steelmaking –was coming to an end in the UK, steel railway rails were still being rolled in England’s North West.   The then BSC Track Products division at Workington in Cumbria was rolling 250ft (76.2 metres) long rails, to UIC standards deemed ‘Normal’, ‘wear resistatnt’ and ‘premium wear resistant’ grades.  The steel rolled into rails at Workington was produced by the Basic Oxygen (BOS) process at Lackenby (Redcar) and Electric Arc furnaces at Sheffield.   

Barrow Steelworks Rail bank

The early days of steel rail production in North West England. Regrettably the source of the image is unknown.

Workington was the rail production centre in the UK, mainly from the 1950s to the 1980s, and prior to that Barrow-in-Furness had been the home of rail production.  Indeed much of the rail output produced at Barrow was shipped around the world, and can be found anywhere from the USA, to Finland and Australia.

The global centre of rail production seems to have shifted to Austria and the heart of Europe these days, with Linz, Graz and Leoben-Donawitz taking the places of Barrow-in-Furness, Redcar and Sheffield.

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Where it all starts in 2019 – the Voestalpine plant in Leoben-Donawitz. Photo: Voestalpine

Today (4th July 2019), 108 metres long rails are being carried – by rail – from Leoben-Donawitz, just to the north west of Graz, through Germany and on to Belgium, and via the Channel Tunnel to Dollands Moor, using a DB Cargo Class 66.  The rails are being rolled at the Voestalpine, before being loaded onto a special train – and this is certainly an exceptional load – the train cosnsists of 18 wagons, with each 108-metre steel rail spanning six wagons.

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The train as it leaves Leoben-Donawitz in Austria Photo: DB Cargo

DB Cargo are running four such trains across Europe to the UK from Leoben-Donawitz to Aachen West, by DB Cargo Belgium on to Antwerp, by ECR on to Calais-Frethun, before DB Cargo UK pick up the final leg on to Eastleigh.

DB Cargo UK’s International Rail Project Manager Tony Gillan said:

“It’s fair to say that this is indeed an exceptional load. Great care and skill have been required to ensure that our cargo can navigate a safe and smooth passage across the European network to its final destination.”

This impressive train with its 108 metre long rails will  be taken forward on Friday 5th July from Dollands Moor to Eastleigh’s East Yard early on Saturday morning 6th July.

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Electro-Diesels & Hybrids

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There has been much talk, and quite a few examples in recent years of what are described as “Bi-mode” trains – in the UK, these are the 800 Class multiple units on the GWR, together with the 10 DRS Class 88 locomotives.  Across Europe these are becoming more common too, and Bombardier’s “Mitrac” is another recent hybrid offering, with power from overhead contact systems, and a diesel engine.

But, these are not a new idea, just the latest incarnation of an idea more than a century old, with the first claim being made in 1889.  This was the “Patton Motor Car”, which was followed in what was known as a “gas-electric hybrid system” applied to a tramcar at Pullman, Illinois.   Also quick on the take up was Belgium, where in the 1890s, a petrol-electric vehicle was taking to the rails, also fitted with a generator and traction motors.  British Westinghouse built a similar example, with a 100hp diesel engine, for the Great Central Railways in the early years of the 20th century.  After the First World War, the hybrid approach took a step further forward in Belgium, with batteries – a collection of accumulators – an equally important step in hybrid developments.

Electro Diesel in Rail Blue liveryIt was not until the 1950s that a class of main line locomotives able to operate on electrified and non-electrified lines.   During the early British Railways era, there was no example of main line ‘hybrid’ or electro-diesel locomotive, although the former private companies had begun experiments in non-steam traction, but with little significant growth.

Many of British Railways’ electro-diesel locomotives for the Southern Region are, amazingly perhaps, are still in regular operation.  It was a unique solution to implement in the early 1960s, to provide go anywhere motive power, for a wide range of mixed traffic and shunting duties.  The BR Modernisation Programme was in full swing, and diesels were replacing steam, but future electrification was on the overhead system, and the Southern’s 3rd rail network had limited potential.

This is a brief look at what BR developed, and its operations over many years:

Electro-diesels cover

 

Useful Links:

 

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Frecciarossa 1000 – Ferrari of the Rails

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Italian State Railways (FS), will be the operator of the fastest ever high-speed service in Europe, once the latest Frecciarossa series begin running.   The new trains, designed and built in Italy are a development of the “Frecciarossa 1000” – but maybe the Ferrari of the rails is a more fitting epithet.

Saying that they will be the “fastest ever high-speed trains in Europe” – you have to bear in mind that’s comparing them with the ICE trains, TGV, and ts derivatives.  Hitachi, as the successful bidder, in partnership with Bombardier were also involved directly with the world’s first high-speed trains – the “Shinkansen” in Japan.

 

This week (4th June), FS, placed an order for 14 of these new trains in a composite contract with Hitachi and Bombardier, worth €575 million, which includes a 10-year maintenance agreement.  Each train is 200 metres long, and designed to operate at up to 360 km/h, carrying 460 passengers.  Other facilities include onboard Wi-Fi, a meeting room and bistro area.

High-speed rail across Europe continues to expand, and the current breed of tilting trains across Italy are certainly eyecatching.  Back in 2017, the Venice bound Frecciarossa was captured at Verona, just as the ETR 610 in Swiss livery was on its return trip westbound for Geneva.   Verona is on the route of the designated high-speed corridor between Milan and Venice, so perhaps when the deviation and infrastructure works between Brescia and Verona are completed, the ETR1000s may operate regularly on this line.

Frecciarossa and SBB ETR 610 at Verona - August 2017

Today’s high-speed rail in Italy, seen at Verona Porta Nuova in August 2017, an ETR 500 Frecciarossa alongside the SBB ETR 610, which is returning from Venice to Geneva. (Photo: Rodger Bradley)

The original ETR1000 series started life in 2012, but it was not until 2015 that the first 8-car sets were approved for service in Italy, between Milan and Rome, and Torino.  They were built then by a consortium of Bombardier and AnsaldoBreda, and in 2015, Hitachi bought Ansaldo.

All 14 of the latest high-speed trains will be built in Italy.  They have a reduced noise and vibration characteristic compared to previous models, with a very low environmental impact, generating only 28 micrograms the CO2 emissions per passenger/kilometre.  On top of this, it is claimed that the materials used in the building of this new gereration is close to 100%.

The Bombardier/Hitachi partnership is also bidding for the UK’s own high-speed train order – for the HS2 project – and recently released an image of what the design could look like.

New HS2 train design image - Hitachi-Bomb copy

 

Of course, both Hitachi and Bombardier are lready involved in the UK, be it new builds, or support and maintenance, including the Class 800 series of trains, now running n the GWR main line and on the East Coast Main Line.  These are all derived from Hitachi’s “A-Train” concept, and have been very successful, although restricted to a maximum of 125mph.  (With ETCS and in cab signalling, the max line speed is increased to 140mph).

But even the latest  Class 800/2  “Azuma” designs running in LNER colours on the East Coast Main Line, still have a bit of ground to make up on Frecciarossa 1000.

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Paxman – Probably the Finest Diesel Engines on Rails

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The firm of Davey Paxman, then Ruston Paxman, and in its final guise of GEC Diesels Ltd was established in 1865, in Colchester, Essex.  Their original product line included agricultural machinery, steam boilers, portable steam engines, and stationary engines, with a wide range of applications in mind.

It was not until just before the First World War that they took an interest in the possibility of ‘oil engines’, with some of the early designs arranged horizontally, just like the company’s steam designs.  From around 1925 they began designing and building engines in the more conventional, vertical layout.

Paxman engined LMS No.1831 copy

What was to prove revolutionary in diesel traction’s use of quick-running engines, allied to innovative mechanical and ovcerall design. This view shows the very first diesel locomotive on British railways, built by the LMS, with its Paxman engine, on what was essentially a steam engine chassis.      Photo; Lens of Sutton

Only 5 years later, in 1930, as the LMS railway began its experiments with diesel rail traction, and the first diesel engine was installed in LMS prototype shunter No. 1831.  The engine was a 6-cylinder machine, developing 412hp at 750rpm, and designated type 6XVS.   The railway company constructed the mechanical portion of the locomotive, based around the frames of a steam engine, and other details, whilst the Paxman engine was the first rail traction diesel engine, installed in the first diesel locomotive on the standard gauge, for a major British railway company.

However, Paxman’s global reputation was based around quick-running ‘vee’ form diesel engines, and it began to make inroads in this area from around 1932, and with that step they were wholly successful, be it marine, stationary or rail traction.  Davey Paxman’s fortunes were assured.

The Second World War provided a pivotal platform for the technology,  and the Paxman 12TP engine – originally designed for a special assignment – was used in the British Landing Craft, and of course played a key part in the D-Day landings.  From that event 75 years ago, more than 4,000 Paxman 12TP engines were used in every assault operation carried out by Allied Forces in Europe.  This same engine design was refined for wider commercial use in the 1950s, including rail traction, and re-designated type RPH.

12RPH

The early 1950s saw the introduction of the YH range, direct fuel injection, and 4-valve cylinder heads.  The refinements of these designs, with ease of maintenance, provided an ideal platform for railway locomotives, with many examples used in branch line, shuntin, and in later develoipments for main line operations.  The quick-running 4-stroke diesel had certainly come of age.  By the end of the decade, a further development of these engines appeared in the shape of the “Ventura” range.

Paxman images 8 copyThe latest design was developed to meet the requirements set by British Railways, building on the design and construction of the RPL and YH engines, incorporating advanced engineering features, and competing with the best European builders were offering.  In fact, these engines were built under licence by Breda for Italian State Railways’ Class 343 locomotives, whilst further east in Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka), “Ventura” engines were fitted to a fleet of diesel hydraulic locomotives for shunter/trip and main line duties.

Paxman images 3 copyOn British Railways, the first of these new engines were fitted and trialled in one of the Western Region’s Swindon built “Warship” Class diesel-hydraulic locos – No. D830 ‘Majestic.  The “Ventura” engines were also retro-fitted to 20 of the North British Bo-Bo diesel-electrics, developing 1,350-hp at 1,500 rev/min engines, following the disappointing service experience with the locomotives’ original power units.  

D6123 from Paxman booklet

One of the NBL built Type 2 engines after refitting with Paxman engines proved much more successful.

Another order from British Railways, was for power unist for the last diesel-hydraulic type used on the Western Region – the Class 14 0-6-0 – together with 6-cylinder versions for the Southern Region’s “Electro-Diesels”.

Class 14 – The last Main Line Diesel Hydraulics

The experience with the “Ventura” design also provided background for the next step in the development of the Paxman range.  Paxmans’ working with British Railways and the MOD (Royal Navy), a new range of high-speed diesels, in the shape of the “Valenta” series were created.  These new engines were the same size and shape as the “Ventura”, but although of the same bore and stroke, gave 40% – 50% more horsepower.  

Paxman Valenta cutaway for HST

The heart of high-speed, the Paxman Valenta engine. Powerful and efficient too – a good combination for rail traction use.

It was these engines that were fitted to the HST, IC125, high speed trains that provided the mainstay for British Rail’s express passenger services for more than 45 years.  Some are of course still in service today.

HST in Sonning Cutting

On the Western Region, the HST sets – or IC125s were the mainstay of high-speed services. This is a typical view of 253003 running through Sonning Cutting between Reading and London Paddington. Photo; British Rail

The prototype HST was fitted with a 12 -cyl. Valenta 12 RP200L, charge-air cooled engine developing 2,250 bhp (UIC) at 1,500 rev/min.  Announced in 1970, the production sets would consist of a pair of power cars equipped with these powerful diesels at eaither end of a 7-car formation of Mark III coaches, which included two catering vehicles.  British Rail’s plan was to order 150 of these trains over a 5-year period, which it was suggested could be extended to 10 years up to 1985, starting in 1975.  They were set to work on both the London to Cardiff and London to Newcastle routes.

Paxman Prototype HST

This diagram shows the compact layout of the prototype HST power car. The buffers were of course not used on the production series.

In their HST guise, Paxman’s “Valenta” engines were definitely at the top of the tree.  They achieved no less than three world speed records.  The first was on 12th June 1973, when the prototype reached a speed of 143.2 mph between Northallerton and Thirsk on the East Coast main line.  The second, 22 years later, when on 27th September 1985 the Tyne-Tees Pullman, with Paxman power ran from Newcastle to London King’s Cross (268 miles) in under 2 hours 20 minutes, achieving a start to stop average speed of 115.4 mph.  Finally, just two years later in 1987, with power cars 43102 and 43104, the world speed record for diesel traction was broken again.  Over a measured mile between York and Northallerton, a speed of 148 mph was recorded, with peaks at just under 150 mph.

HST set leaving Edinburgh - January 1994 - RPB

Still on active service in the 1990s, 43113 is seen here running through the approaches to Edinburgh Waverley, but westbound through Prines Street Gardens.   (c) RPBradley

The longevity of their success suggests that Paxman high-speed diesels were probably the finest diesel power plant designed and operated on rail.

Further reading:

 

http://www.paxmanhistory.org.uk/paxeng34.htm

 

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Siemens New Rail Factory in Goole

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The name of Siemens has an exceptionally long history with railway equipment and rolling stock manufacturing in the UK. To be precise since 1864, when the Woolwich factory was established in London, although the company had been set up in London in 1850, and over the next 30 years, William Siemens was responsible for the arrival of electric traction. Amongst many other innovative developments and delivering what we might today call ‘disruptive’ technology.

This week – April 23rd – it was announced that the company had submitted their plans to build a new factory in Goole, East Yorkshire, for the construction, testing and support for new rolling stock for UK train companies. The application is for outline consent to enable the development to be delivered in phases, with the first phase – the manufacturing facilities expected to open in 2023, with the factory fully operational in 2025. The new facility will manufacture and commission the latest development of the “Desiro” family, which itself – in the UK – dates back to 2000, when the first emu’s were ordered for service with First Great Eastern, and owned by Angel Trains.

Goole Infographics V2-02 (002)The new £200 million factory uses land on a 67 acre site, adjacent to the Guardian Industries UK glass factory, and the Goole intermodal rail terminal – a clearly appropriate location from a rail perspective – and is also close to junction 36 of the M62 motorway. The plans submitted include 80,000 sqm of manufacturing, commissioning, warehouse buildings and stabling sidings, as well as a four-storey, 5,000 sqm office building. Siemens Mobility is planning to create up to 700 jobs as part of this project, and 250 during the construction period, with an estimated additional 1,700 in the UK supply chain.

But Siemens Mobility is not just planning to build trains in Goole, as the company’s UK rolling stock engineering and commissioning team will be based here, and is planning to locate its Digital Operations Centre onsite, collecting and analysing train borne data for train operators.

Ntfl-exterior-platform

Artists impression of the new tube rolling stock design Photo: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44094899

The driver to carry the proposal forward was of course the £1.5 billion order for new trains for the Piccadilly Line for London Underground. The Piccadilly Line had the distinction at one time of being London’s longest tube line, and is now 113 years old. Under the Deep Tube Upgrade Programme, Siemens Mobility Ltd’s contract will supply 94 small-profile metro trainsets, following their successful award from the tender process that began in 2016. Siemens’ success was achieved against stiff competition from Alstom, Bombardier, CAF, and Hitachi, and which included three of the companies launching legal challenges that automatically prevented award of the contract. Suspension of the contract award was lifted by the High Court on 2nd November 2018, and the contract placed.

Whilst it is true that Siemens already have a considerable presence in the area, supporting the offshore and renewables industry, manufacturing turbine blades, this new factory is an important step in the re-growth of the UK’s rail manufacturing industry. It is interesting to reflect too that between 1957 and 1972, GEC Traction (later merged with Alsthom), secured orders for 720 sets of motorcoach power equipment for the Piccadilly, and the Heathrow Extension.

Some useful links:

 

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