Government urged to guarantee orders to secure future of train-making in Derby

The Government has to “stop dithering” and do everything in its power to secure the future of Derby’s Alstom train factory, Labour has said.

Speaking during a visit to the plant – the UK’s biggest rail assembly site – on Thursday, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds urged ministers to step in to vary existing contracts and bring forward plans for new trains and carriages.

Ms Reeves said: “Train manufacturing is such a vital part of the economy, both in direct jobs here at Alstom but also in the supply chain.

“It’s almost unimaginable not to have train production here in Derby. I know that there is a bright future – we’ve just got to get through the next 18 or 24 months.

Rachel Reeves at Alstom
Rachel Reeves and Jonathan Reynolds during their visit to Alstom (Matthew Cooper/PA)

“It is now only Government that can guarantee that work by varying existing contracts and by bringing forward new procurement. These are trains that have to be built and manufactured.

“The only question is whether the Government can stop dithering and guarantee that that work will happen right now so that we can secure the future here.”

Ms Reeves added: “This Government even, at this late stage, can ensure the future of work – but my real worry is that if the Government continue to delay the general election and continue to delay decisions here … by the next election it would already be too late and the site could be mothballed.

“I want the Government to take the action that is needed now. Time is running out and it is now in the hands of this secretary of state and this Prime Minister.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said Ms Reeves’ comments were “unfounded” and “inaccurate”, adding there was “a strong pipeline of orders for new trains in the UK” and the Transport Secretary had had multiple meetings with Alstom in the past month.

Mr Reynolds said the UK train manufacturing sector was not an industry that was failing but did need “good, consistent” Government decision-making and “promises that have already been made” to be honoured.

He told reporters: “It is really important to stress that this is not a request for some sort of government bailout or government money.

Alstom Derby
Production lines at the plant have ceased work on new trains (Matthew Cooper/PA)

“This is simply about the lack of a consistent industrial strategy that gives a steady through-put of work, that keeps a world-class facility like this open.

“We can’t afford to lose success stories like this (factory). This is a huge issue locally … but this is also about our national, sovereign capability and the strength of our economy.

“That’s something that we hold very, very dear. When we talk about turning around the performance of the UK economy, we have got to have places like this.”

Ms Reeves added: “Even at – as one member of the management team put it to me earlier – five minutes to midnight, the Government can still do what is needed and do what is necessary to maintain train production here in Derby.

“I would also urge them to actually come here to Alstom, to come here to Derby to talk to the workers and talk to the management team – and not to hide in their offices in Westminster.

“The fact that they haven’t speaks volumes about this Government’s commitment to the people of Derby and to the workers here.”

Production lines at the site stopped work on new trains last month due to a lack of orders.

Alstom Derby
Work to build new trains has ceased at the plant (Matthew Cooper/PA)

Alstom has confirmed the final train from its current order book was completed on March 21, leaving its historic Litchurch Lane site with no committed workload until a HS2 order expected to start in mid-2026.

The Unite trade union last week urged the firm and the Government to “just get on and sign the contracts” to ensure the security of thousands of highly-skilled workers.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “These comments are unfounded, inaccurate and completely ignore the fact that the Transport Secretary has had more than 20 meetings with rolling stock manufacturers since taking office, including three with Alstom in the last month alone to help secure a sustainable future.

“There is a strong pipeline of orders for new trains in the UK, but train manufacturing is a competitive market and all contracts need to be assessed to demonstrate a proper business case and to comply with the law. We remain in close contact with Alstom.”

An Alstom spokesperson said the focus of its discussions with the Department for Transport since May 2023 had been to identify packages of work that could fill the current production gap.

Completed trains currently at Litchurch Lane are going through final testing and, where necessary, getting appropriate modifications to allow them to enter service in the coming months, the spokesperson added.

The firm paused a voluntary redundancy consultation process for permanent staff in January, on the assumption that additional workload would be secured following discussions with the Government, but is now set to restart the consultation process.