A rail centre fit for the future

Source: Dec/Jan RTM

Alstom UK’s new modernisation facility in Widnes has made fantastic progress on the Class 390 fleet since opening its doors in June, writes Nick Crossfield, the company’s managing director.

The north west has a rich history of engineering. The Liverpool City Region in particular, with its historic ties to ports and shipping, has supported thousands of engineering jobs, leaving a strong legacy in the area.

Combine this heritage with the revival of the north west economy through the government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative, and the excellent transport links, and it’s not surprising that Alstom chose Widnes as the site for the UK’s biggest and most sophisticated new centre for train modernisation.

The site opened in June, and it represents a revolutionary step for the rail industry in the north west and beyond.

Spread over a 13,000sqm site, Widnes is the largest rolling stock modernisation facility in the UK. In fact, the main modernisation hall is almost the same size as the flight deck of the new HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers. This vast size, and our close embrace of ‘Industry 4.0’ principles, makes it ideal for modernisation work on intercity trains.

Indeed, since opening our doors in June, we have been delighted with the progress being made on our first contract at the new site – repainting the 56-strong fleet of Class 390 ‘tilting’ Pendolino trains.

It is fair to say that these are Britain’s hardest working trains, and Widnes has proven to be the perfect setting to give them a new lease of life.

Due to the cutting-edge technology at Widnes, including large-scale, specialist painting booths, it takes just two weeks for our teams to re-paint and service one train, making it one of the most efficient re-painting processes ever seen in the UK. The contract will be complete by December 2019, and the trains will all be back serving passengers.

Creating local jobs

As part of our commitment to bringing skilled jobs back to the region, 80 people have been employed to deliver this project, including five apprentices, all from the local area. We are also closely embracing the potential of future digital training methods, as the team is using virtual reality painting simulators for training and to validate the work.

The Pendolino contract is just the start of Alstom’s story in Widnes. We have already committed that if we win contracts like Transport for London’s Deep Tube Upgrade Programme, we will build the new trains in Widnes. We are excited about the potential to bring train-building back to the north west, close to where historic railway factories like the Vulcan foundry once stood.

Our recent shortlisting to build the trains for HS2 offers further opportunities. If we were to win the contract, we have committed to using Widnes to deliver elements of the deal. It would see us create a large number of local jobs and training opportunities, and to work with the UK supply chain to create a sustainable long-term legacy of growth and opportunity for the region.

Finally, the opening of our site in Widnes has meant that we are able to consolidate our presence in the north west into one central hub. In particular, our recent announcement that we would be moving the staff from our Preston site to Widnes highlights how it is the natural home for Alstom’s increasingly digitally-focused business.

By consolidating and embracing Industry 4.0 principles we will increase our productivity and competitiveness as we look to bring train-building back to the north west.

It is a hugely exciting time for us at Alstom as we grow into our new site at Widnes, and the engineers that we are training there grow with us.




Frankh   23/01/2018 at 13:25

"In particular, our recent announcement that we would be moving the staff from our Preston site to Widnes". The Preston site is closing and the work going to Widnes.

Hebethecat   25/01/2018 at 23:55

Mr Crossfield conveniently forgets to mention that the Alstom Academy for Rail was also opened there in the summer ... and is now under threat of closure as part of a redundancy programme, also affecting around 250 Alstom signalling staff, and not a few of the folk who used to work in Preston.

Almost   26/01/2018 at 12:42

Nick Crossfield must think Preston is close to Widnes in the North West, but the daily commute will be at least 2.5 hours by car, and in choosing the Widnes site, Alstom forgot to consider public transport links (there are none). Experienced engineers at Preston have taken voluntary redundancy or are under threat of redundancy. The training academy is being run down after only 4 months of operation, so that Preston staff can be accommodated in the training academy's space. Not a glorious episode in Alstom's history

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