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Suppliers set out plan to drive ‘renaissance’ in rail manufacturing

The government’s new Industrial Strategy should be seen as an opportunity to herald a “renaissance” in rail manufacturing and drive the creation of 40,000 new jobs in the supply chain, two major rail organisations have stated.

In their joint submission to the government’s consultation on the Industrial Strategy, the Rail Supply Group (RSG) and the Railway Industry Association (RIA) have welcomed the new plan that could help design a policy that will create jobs and support investment in a variety of different businesses at different levels of the supply chain.

The response also sets out a plan to accelerate the rail supply sector, particularly through the government helping to support the development of world leading technologies such as the digital railway and expanding SMEs in supply.

RSG and RIA also stated that they believed that with the right decisions, the network could reduce its reliance on foreign imports to support the opening up of new export markets for UK rail businesses and create 40,000 new jobs in the industry.

Specifically, the organisations have called on the government to implement a number of enabling actions to achieve its ambitions, including a rolling programme of investment and a move to output specification that will allow the private sector to innovate and drive efficiency.

Gordon Wakeford, chair of the RSG, said: “The RSG welcomes the government’s recognition of the vital role played by rail in theUKeconomy.

“Our response builds on the RSG Strategy and states how the rail supply chain, given the right collaborative environment, has the appetite and capability to deliver considerable improvements and benefits.”

Wakeford also said that an expanded rail supply sector would contribute towards improved productivity and increased exports with a better outcome for UK plc and rail users.

“To achieve this potential, it will require changes in approach from government, clients and the supply chain,” he argued.

“The RSG’s Industrial Strategy consultation response is a first-class plan that lays out how government can help enable huge improvements in efficiency, productivity, job creation and investment in businesses right across the UK.”

Darren Caplan, chief executive of RIA, said the government’s Industrial Strategy represents a real opportunity to “refresh and reset the rules of the game for rail supply with the creation of a dedicated sector deal, adoption of longer- term contracts, procurement efficiencies and changes to the way contracts are specified”.  

“There is a lot the industry can do itself to improve; but there are also areas where the sector’s deepening partnership with government can deliver results,” he said. “It’s an exciting time to work in rail supply and our joint submission reflects the appetite from industry to step up to meet the challenges facing rail in Britain.”

The news also follows RIA vowing to work with the government to ensure that British railways prosper after the UK’s exit from the EU, saying that the change represented both “challenges and opportunities”

Top Image: Geoff Sheppard

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J, Leicester   03/05/2017 at 10:33

Nobody could possibly be against investment in the national capacity to provide for the railway network, but on the export side, it seems wishful thinking that the UK will be able to restore its heavy industry for rail manufacture domestically, let alone for export, any time soon unless an overseas operator can be coaxed into investing in the market. Case in point, the rolling stock side of things - what exactly do we have besides Bombardier? Aside from a few pop-up factories building a token number of trainsets as part of larger orders, there's nothing. Half the reason people here at RTM are so supportive of VivaRail's class 230 project is that it's a start-up, British business, but that it should get to the point that upcycling forms the backbone of domestic train output reflects badly on our manufacturing system as a whole. Locomotive manufacture is out of the question - I can only think of Brush which is currently kitted out to build a substantial number of locomotives, and their operations are stretched by the work they do maintaining and re-engining existing machines. They did turn out a couple of battery locomotives for MTR last year, but new loco orders are sporadic at best. Heck, we can't even find a domestic manufacturer capable of building a fleet of coaching stock nowadays - we're relying on CAF in Spain for that. There's also the issue of the dwindling domestic output of the steel industry - with it being far cheaper to now import from China, regardless of the quality of material, it's going to be difficult to boost production of things like rails, bodyshells and wheelsets here. It has been a good decade since the demise of Workington, and nowadays, with the exception of concrete sleepers and ballast, the majority of the components for network maintenance come from abroad. It may become the case that Brexit weakens the pound to the extent that manufacturing for export again becomes a viable business, but economic reaction so far suggests that won't be the case. The response of the RSG and RIA smacks of wishful thinking, I'm afraid. I'm all for expanding the UK's self-sufficiency and restoring some of the export abilities across the various sectors of the railway industry we have lost, but the baseline is now so low, and the sector so weakened since its 20th Century heyday, that I don't see it happening. But hey, at least we might be able to order a couple more sheds from the States once we do away with the IIIB emissions regulations, eh? ;)

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