Posted 11th January 2009 | 11 Comments

China exporting trains ‘using western technology’ - claim

Irish Rail poster promoting the roll out of new trains built by Rotem in Korea.

AS questions are asked about the British Department for Transport’s decision to invite tenders for new trains from three foreign companies — in China, Korea and Spain — the head of Alstom has claimed that Chinese companies are offering trains for export that use technology derived from western suppliers, usually supplied on condition that it is not used outside China.

Among four companies invited to tender to supply 200 new passenger coaches for British train operators is CSRE Ltd – Chinese Sourced Railway Equipment on behalf of CSR Nanjing Puzhen Rolling Stock Co. — which is owned by the Chinese government.

Two China State Railways subsidiaries have also won an order to supply three 125 mph (200 km/h) trains to Grand Central, the ‘open access’ operator running services between Sunderland and London King’s Cross.

In a Financial Times interview, Philippe Mellier, chief executive of the Paris-based Alstom — which has built France’s TGVs, including the Eurostar version for Channel Tunnel services — suggested other countries should consider blocking trains exported from China.

Associated Press reported Mr Mellier saying that China was closing off its domestic market and that Chinese companies were exporting trains that used foreign technologies.

Issues about Japanese and Korean train manufacturing are also similar to those in China, according to Mr Mellier, quoted in the Financial Times.  Japan's manufacturers have their own technology and face no foreign competition in their protected home market, he said, and Korea's market is closed.

Yet Hitachi, of Japan, has been chosen by the British Department for Transport (DfT) to build the new 140 mph (225 km/h) rolling stock for operation by Southeastern on Kent services over High Speed 1, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, from December this year.

And Hyundai Rotem of Korea is another company that has now been included by the DfT among tenderers for the 200 new passenger coaches.

The other companies invited to tender for the British vehicles are Derby-based Bombardier Transportation and CAF – Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles — based in Spain’s Basque Country.

CAF was last year selected to supply trams for Edinburgh’s new light rail system, and has also recently supplied diesel multiple units to Northern Ireland Railways.

In the Republic of Ireland, South Korea’s Hyundai Rotem Company is supplying Iarnród Éireann with a new fleet of 183 Class 22000 InterCity diesel rail cars, in partnership with Tokyu Car Corporation of Japan, which has supplied the bogies.

The four manufacturers — Bombardier, CAF, CSRE and Rotem — are now in contention for the £300 million project to build 200 diesel-powered coaches for use in Britain. These are due to be operating by 2012 following negotiations by the DfT with three rail franchises — First Great Western, TransPennine Express and Northern

The additional rolling stock, announced in last November’s pre-Budget Report, is among several projects being accelerated to help Britain’s economy get through the recession. The closing date for bids is 16 February and the winner, or winners, will be announced in April.

But if the contracts are not awarded to Derby-based Bombardier, questions will be asked as to how, exactly, giving the money to a foreign firm will provide a fiscal stimulus.

If the Chinese or Korean manufacturers are included, other questions may well be asked in the light of the recent comments by Alstom’s Mr Mellier.

When Northern’s franchise was let no plans for new or extra rolling stock were included, although the operator has proposed replacing some its  ‘Pacer’ trains — which include little collision protection, and are very unpopular with passengers — with Chinese-built rolling stock.  Northern has had to cope with a large increase in passenger numbers, notably in Leeds and West Yorkshire.

TransPennine Express’s fleet of trains was built by Siemens, of Germany, but this company has not been included in the DfT’s invitation to tender. 

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Andrew Kinge, Brisbane, Australia

    Agree with many of the comments made here. Almost all rolling stock used by SNCF or DB or CAF or the Italian State Railways is manufactured in their own countries and they effectively have closed their markets to foreign bids despite what the EU says !!! Good old Britain opens its markets and watches in companies get decimated or taken over and jobs exported all for the sake of "free trade and competition" then we have to import the goods we need and we lose the skills needed. Both parties and the short sighted civil service are equally to blame for this. Yep heading towards third world Britain si I find it a bit rich for Alsthom to complain !! As a recent immigrant to Australia even in Queensland a state of a little of 4m people all the passenger trains are manufactured in Queesland, likewise for New South Wales, Victoria....ineffecient probably but heah it keeps job and skills alive in the respective states. I weep for my home country

  • Patrick Daniel, Derby, Great Britain

    Buy British Buy Bombardier for godsake! The japanese and the koreans (if they will ever set up factories here) will only employ technicians and a few engineers and thus killing off the next generation of british train designers. The chinese are notorious for copying foreign technology and using their cheaper labour to market it at a lower price and quality. Alstom generally built trains which are rather of lower quality in my opinion and since they've closed their factory in Birmingham its pretty much obvious what their intentions towards british workers.

  • John Tyers, Stamford, UK

    The first locomotive to run in Japan was made in England. Now the wheel has come full circle and we are importing trains from Japan. All due to short sightedness and lack of faith in British industry on the part of the politicos and bean counters who prevail in our emerging third world society.

  • Steve Bratt, Crewe

    Interesting that none of the previous posters has asked the two most important questions.

    1. will the new trains offer a safe and comfortable working environment for the crews who will have to work on them for the next 25 years?

    2. will the new trains offer safe, comfortable and well thought out accomodation for the passengers that will travel on them for the next 25 years?

    The British built Alstom class 175s did not meet those conditions which is why, for example, so many staff and passengers have spent the last couple of weeks shivering, and why so many drivers suffered perforated eardrums until HMRI stepped in and demanded changes. And presumably why Alstom only ever got one order for them!

    It is worth noting that the Chief Executive of Irish Rail has been a regular traveller on 175s between Crewe and Holyhead, maybe that influenced their decision to buy Korean!

    Perhaps if Alstom designed something decent and adopted a better attitude to dealing with it's customers, they wouldnt have to resort to scaring politicians to get orders. I feel sorry for the Alstom staff at Washwood Heath who lost work, they did a good job of building them but they were doomed before they even started.

  • Mike Parr, Vossem, Belgium

    There will be a political storm if this does not go to Bombadier. Given the ineptitude of the current class of UK politicos (who are also highly doctrinaire in their approach to industry) coupled to a relatively brainless bunch of bureaucrats I can see the contract going to the Chinese. At which point - a nice political storm will ensure with the Labour rabble losing yet more ground to the Bullingdons.

  • Anoop, London

    The initial manufacturing cost of the train is only a small part of its total lifetime cost. Reliability is a much more important consideration, but this is not factored into the tendering cost. It is handy to have the manufacturer in your own country in case modifications need to be made later. It is also sensible to have large standardised fleets rather than small quantities of incompatible stock.

    Another issue is weight. New trains in Britain are notoriously heavy, causing severe track and environmental damage. Some of this weight is due to improved crashworthiness as per our stringent safety regulations, but manufacturers have not refined the designs sufficiently to remove all unnecessary weight. This is only possible with time and attention to detail at the design stage; hence it has not occurred with previous small orders.

    The Bombardier Class 172 will be a refined and lighter version of the popular Turbostar, which itself is the least heavy of the new diesel trains. It is by all criteria the obvious choice for the new order.

  • Nick Briggs, Catford, London, UK

    I agree with all the comments, But we now don't have the capabilaty to make these trains anymore as the goverment in their wisdom sold all the carrage works off during the 90's. Derby, Eastleigh, Crewe etc. We currently can't even keep up with demand for wagons and locos in the freight market.

  • Chris, Longstock

    British Rail, and its industry partners, not only designed and built much of its own rolling stock "in house" but exported trains around the world.
    The UK has invented nearly 90% of the world's inventions.
    And yet - why are we so good at own goals?

  • Robbie R Craig, Romney Marsh, UK

    unfortunately, competition theory wins every time with HMG and the City - never mind the long term damage its does.

    I think some of the EU companies mentioned have been protected in their home markets in the same way as the far east companies. It is only the UK that would cut its nose off, to spite its face.

    In trade terms should be equal and if actual reciprocation of access is not a feature of the arrangement, then any deal should be blocked. This would get us back some of our energy companies too...

  • Mick Odell, Milton Keynes,, UK.

    About time someone questioned the DFT about there tendering of new trains.Surely the Class 172 order should be expanded to cover the extra 200 vehicles needed.Also keeping UK workers in a jobs.

  • Geoff Steel, Northampton

    I have to agree that unless the new trains are constructed in the UK; using British employees I do not understand how this measure is going to stimulate the British economy if they are procured from overseas.