14 Apr 2011

Challenge to Hitachi challenge

There is a knotty question surrounding the IEP. The train that is now being offered by Hitachi is very different from the one on which it won the competitive tender. So much so that the other train manufacturers could argue that they never had the opportunity to bid for a train in its present form. This could lead to a legal challenge. We shall see.

Certainly the European train manufacturers have a lot to fear from Hitachi. The Japanese company has promised to build an assembly plant, and nothing more than an assembly at Newton Aycliffe, in the depressed north-east. If it does this, the other manufacturers could find themselves locked out of an important part of the UK train market for decades. This will be a serious threat not just to UK train manufacturing but also to the UK railway research and development industry that is associated with it.

I do not agree with economic jingoism but this looks as if the UK is about to find itself at the receiving end of a colonialist coup.


  1. I'm not sure about a 'serious threat to UK train manufacturing' - I was under the impression that UK train manufacturing was in such a poorly state that serious threats were impossible - perhaps the term "death blow" would be more applicable..

    As far as I know Hitachi is not required to source components by open tender - nevertheless the large multinationals do do this - generally they buy from the 'best' or 'most expert' manufacturers eg transformers from ABB, pantographs from Faively etc. If any UK manufacturers can provide offers that are internationally competitive I would expect them to be able to do well out of the Hitachi contract.

    For the Hitachi 395 "Javelins" you can see a brief description of the sourcing of components on p.24 of this document http://www.railalliance.co.uk/docs/rsl10hitachi.pdf - they quote "40%" of components from european manufacturers - but I don't think that is 40% by cost. Much of the UK supplied components seem to be low value types, but there is a natural advantage for UK specific components eg UK specific safety systems.

    As far as 'colonialist coups' go I think it is too late - this seems to me to have already happened eg Siemens (eg 185 and 380 desiros) makes their products in Germany, Alstom has closed UK production - only Bombardier in Derby remain.

    On the subject of Hitachi's competitor - the lack of any export orders for Bombardier products developed in the UK (excluding the electrostars for South Africa) does not indicate a particularily healthy business. Compare this with other smaller sized manufactures eg CAF, Bombardier Sweden (eg the former ASEA train production).

    Playing devil's advocate I'll describe Bombardier Derby as "flabby, complacent, and reliant on a captive market". Their term report should say "hasn't really applied himself". OK that isn't really fair, but the UK market does need some proper competition, not a carve up of the orders between historically entitled parties.

    Getting back to being nice to Bombardier - I'd agree that they have in principle every reason to make a legal complaint given the change in the contract - I'm not convinced that it is worth pursuing - the whole HS2 experience has shown me that the government has an unlimited supply of whitewash.

  2. Thanks for comments. That Bombardier Derby is "flabby" is strange, considering that Bombardier Västerås has produced and is producing some really innovative work and commissioned more from consultants. Its Gröna Tåget 125 mph train has 25% additional capacity with no loss in comfort. To run outside Scandinavia it would need specially adapted routes but if the UK is going to have new railways, this should at least be looked at.

    Presumably Bombardier's head office will eventually take action when it realises that Derby is as bad as you say. My impression is that the British tend not to be very good at working collaboratively and too often allow personalities and politics to get in the way of doing good work. It seems to be a national problem.

  3. I may be being a little harsh on Derby, but I wouldn't change my statement - the original name of the works is a giveaway "Derby Wagon and Carriage Works" (ie non powered vehicles) - prior to privatisation the site's experience in making modern trains was very limited: BREL York made many of the electric commuter trains, and BREL Crewe was responsible for the driving parts of both the Intercity 125 and 225s. York no longer exists and Crewe no longer makes trains.

    I guess Derby has survived simply because less glamorous DMU and EMU commuter orders are much more common than high speed train orders.

    As for Bombardier as a whole I've heard it described as 'Banker to the rail industry' - more of a holding company for related concerns (with the concentration of manufacturing resources giving it ability to close plants when they become commercially unviable but still able to complete contracts elsewhere)

    Basically I'd characterise Bombardier as a transportation related holding company with a number of mostly entirely independent subsidiaries serving individual countries demands (Scandinavia excluding Finland can be considered equivalent to a single country in this respect)

    As far as I know there is little real integration between the different activities of the group and as long as Derby's bottom line is positive I would guess Bombardier will be quite happy with that. In the passenger sector national interests and conventions are still very strong and "not built/designed here" arguments still carry a lot of weight; such things are generally unwritten, or etched into obscure technical requirements or simply into the old-boys network.

    Personally I'd just like to see the end of diesel engines on major main lines in the UK because it's just such a headache and ultimately the solutions are kludges or whatever you want to call them. An X2000 derivative would be wonderful - I particularly like the active steering bogie technology and the better efficiency motors - features that could be incorporated into a UK solution - the japanese railway industry already has permanent magnet motors in working trains, and seems fairly advanced in mechatronics - so it's possibly that Hitachi could end up providing something nearly as good - however the current contract seems to be for approx 2/3 of the trains as dreadful bi-mode types.

    People only get what they ask for I suppose - but I don't really think it will be as good as what passengers deserve, or as good in terms of operating costs if only the government would overcome it's irrational fear of electrification.. - electric is cheaper - especially for small densely packed counties with high route utilisation; to me the resistance to electrication, and it's consequences (bi-mode) seems basically irrational. Makes me doubt that decisions here are actually being made for the greater good - but that's a very old chestnut..

  4. That explains the lack of technology transfer. Incidentally I have been doing some work on bodyshell design - there is unused space inside the loading gauge, boarding arrangements could be improved and vehicle length needs to be optimised.

    There is also scope to improve construction technology through design changes.

  5. Sounds interesting - the original Hitachi IEP specification was for carriages 26m long (3m more than the current 23m) with a 2.7m width - this is a design decision I find odd though I recall it being justified on grounds of more seats per metre (less percentage of vestibule space) - it seems that these longer trains will require structure gauge enhancements just to keep the same 2.7m vehicle width eg http://www.railnews.co.uk/news/business/2009/05/08-super-expresses.html (The whole IEP fiasco seems to be an expensive exercise in standing still..)

    On the subject of 'wide' trains I recall a few years ago travelling on 3+2 trains in the UK - these were the diesel class 150s (~20m long) (the class 142 'pacers' also had 3+2 seating) - on short intercity journeys (1hr) in the north of england the experience was not unpleasant, and not really any worse that the claustrophobic travelling experience in the longer narrower [2+2] class 172s.

    The must some limited structure gauge benefit from a shorter coach length - which in turn is required from certain types of articulation - jacobs articulation springs to mind - which effectively only has 1 axle at each end of the coach and therefor requires a shorter coach for axle load reasons.

    Then there's the talgo method of coach building which gives rise to practically 1/2 length coaches - I've never been totally comfortable with the idea but RENFE runs them at 250km/h.

    In general structure enhancement is key - I'd like to see a DfT report weighing up the cost/benefits of a standardisation programme of structure gauge on the general UK network - excluding freight possible benefits are simplified procurement to rolling stock - assuming any design that meets a UIC standard could be procured - possibly increasing competition. It would also have the benefit to companies such as Bombardier of making their design process more efficient (a single european design?) - ultimately if the UK is building trains to a reasonable world standard size then export orders are much more possible too - which is a good thing. Currently builds to a UK loading gauge have practically no export market. My expectation would be UIC 505 on 'rural' lines, and 'channel tunnel' standard or better on mainlines - that would be a straightforward solution to capacity if coupled with a rolling program of introduction of double decker, [3+2] and [3+3] seating trains - but not as sexy as 200mph trains.

  6. Thanks for these well-informed comments. Double deckers have their drawbacks apart from those running in Finland which do not have the reduced profile on the upper deck. There are also issues with boarding times and luggage space, and one ends up with a heavy vehicle.

    SJ has ordered no more X40 double deckers but has opted for a new build of trains 3.5 metres wide which Bombardier Västerås has developed from the Regina series. These have very acceptable 2+3 seating, as on which is particularly good for passengers travelling as a group who want to sit together.

    A core network of routes (eg London to Birmingham/Manchester/Leeds/Bristol/Brighton) might be developed to accommodate such such trains but it is questionable whether the obvious drawbacks to such a proposal would make it worthwhile.

    But why Bombardier appears not to transfer its technology around the company is an interesting question - I am thinking, for instance, of the high quality stainless bodyshells it has produced for the X31 and Regina stock and the similar trains built for NSB.

  7. Yes - I can't actually think of any stainless steel coaches in the UK though Bombardier (and predecessors ABB and Adtranz) have been producing Aluminium bodied trains since the 1990s (eg Class 465)

    Aluminium has similar advantages to Stainless steel, but there is a evidence that SS is cheaper, lasts longer, and is safer (don't want to be in a Al carriage in the event of a fire..) - possibly the reason for the lack of adoption is the relative ease of manufacture - extruded aluminium is easily made into complex cross sections and final manufacture is just joing a few contiguous seams. Might be a man-hour cost issue that prevents it being used in the UK.?

    You can see stainless steel vehicles in the UK though - they work very well http://www.porterbrook.com/images/pic_library/pdf/HHA%20Wagon.pdf (note that the construction takes place in lower cost Poland though..)