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Last-minute deal saves Britain’s biggest train factory from closure

An Aventra locomotive unit is prepared for despatch to train operator Greater Anglia at the Alstom factory in Litchurch Lane, Derby
Alstom had earlier told unions that a redundancy process for 1,200 staff had to be restarted - Asadour Guzelian/Guzelian

Britain’s biggest train factory is to be saved from closure following crisis talks, after Transport Secretary Mark Harper agreed to sign off on a vital new order.

Alstom’s plant in Derby, which employs 3,000 people and completed its last remaining trains in March, is set to be awarded a deal for 10 new commuter units after crunch discussions between Mr Harper and the French company’s boss Henri Poupart-Lafarge.

The new work will commence in the first half of 2025 and cover a gap in activity before the Derby plant begins construction of a fleet of express trains for the HS2 line in mid-2026.

The drought period threatened the factory’s viability and Alstom told unions earlier in April that a redundancy process for the 1,200 blue-collar staff had to be restarted.

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Mr Poupart-Lafarge travelled to London on April 16 to impress the seriousness of the situation upon Mr Harper, a source said. The breakthrough was reached when the Government agreed to finance an extra five trains for the Elizabeth Line in addition to five others that had already secured outline funding from the Treasury.

Earlier talks with the Department for Transport failed to result in any new orders.

Mark Harper Transport Secretary
Mark Harper agreed to sign off on a vital new order - Andy Rain/Shutterstock

Mr Harper has now agreed to finance the construction of Aventra trains, featuring a total of 90 railcars, sources close to the talks said. Transport for London, which oversees the Elizabeth Line and will own the new trains, still needs to present a formal business case for the purchase, though that process is not expected to pose significant hurdles, the sources said.

Alstom’s entire Litchurch Lane factory in Derby had faced closure following the completion of final testing work in four or five months, a step that would have thrown the HS2 programme into chaos and made Britain the only G7 country without a combined train design and manufacturing capability.

An Alstom spokesman said: “The parties have agreed to conclude discussions as soon as possible and no later than the end of May. This could help secure the future of the Litchurch Lane site.”

Mr Harper said in a social media post that he’d had a “constructive meeting” with Alstom on the future of train manufacturing in the UK and that intensive discussions will continue with the aim of finalising the accord.

In a letter to MPs with constituencies in the Derby area, Mr Harper said that the onus is on the French firm to provide competitive pricing and transparency on costings to ensure swift closure of the contract. He has asked Alstom for written confirmation that it will invest in Litchurch Lane and make it a hub for design and production.

Alstom would move some other work to Litchurch Lane to help sustain jobs until the start of the new contract. The factory, which traces its history back more than 140 years, helps support 15,000 jobs in the supply chain and contributes about £1bn annually to GDP.

The future of Hitachi’s train plant in County Durham remains uncertain as it prepares to complete manufacturing work on its last orders over the summer. The site at Newton Aycliffe is scheduled to build HS2 trains from the second half of next year before they’re sent to Alstom for completion, but currently lacks work to see it through to that point.

Train building at the Newton Aycliffe factory, which employs 700 people, is due to peak over the summer before declining in the autumn after the completion of contracts for Avanti West Coast and East Midlands Railway, leaving hundreds of highly skilled manufacturing jobs vulnerable. Testing work will take other employees through only to next spring.

Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh raised an urgent question about rail industry job losses in the House of Commons on Tuesday, accusing the Government of needless foot-dragging that has damaged the industry.

She said: “Crucial deadlines have been missed, avoidable job losses have already been made and local businesses have already been forced to close.”

Responding, Rail Minister Huw Merriman said: “These are complex problems to which there are not simple solutions, but the Government have been doing everything they can to support the workforce over many months, and continue to do so.”