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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

UK companies can't build trains (or trams) anymore - or so it seems.

Left : Trams for Calcutta and trolleybus for Moscow ! Built on Strand Road, Preston by English Electric Co. and examples of UK transport equipment exports in the mid 1930s.

Hard on the heels of the Prime Ministerial shrill proclamations affirming 'it's the right thing to do' to remain part of the EU Members Club - is news this week of a half billion pound order placed with one of the railway rolling stock leasing companies - by the new Northern Rail franchise holder (Arriva). Some 280 coaches, both electric and diesel powered, will be built (wait for it) - in Spain by CAF to run on Northern Rail's services from the end of 2018. Spiffing new trains with light grey themed livery (shades of Blackpool Transport) will replace (finally) the abysmal third world rolling stock encapsulating the ethos of an unlamented current operator which has done so well pushing tired worn out equipment on to high fare paying commuters into and out of Blackpool over the full life of its operating franchise.

Of course this bountiful rolling stock contract has to be placed by the new operator with a middleman brokerage (sorry : 'railway equipment leasing company') - as opposed to being directly sourced on a competitively tendered basis from original equipment manufacturers. Thus adding a further level of profitmaking on to the capital expense of train procurement. But this is the price of the railway privatisation package rushed through Parliament in the tail end of the Major government. Since then Britain (sorry again - UK politicians) have sold rail assets paid by the taxpayer to foreign firms whose ability to milk users at all levels through excessively priced service delivery - is a source of constant amazement in the rest of Europe (if not the world). But the UK public are by now well accustomed to being 'taken for a ride' on overcrowded trains with prescribed annual increase to our 'tithes' (sorry - Season tickets).

These shiny new coaches will be arriving at Blackpool North and a station near you within three years - courtesy of Spanish workers and financing intermediaries. Of course there is no company in Britain capable of building railway rolling stock (or trams). God forbid politicians whinging on about the need to improve UK manufacturing base and exports (insert 'Northern Powerhouse' here) - should take a moment or two or three - to ponder on what they have wrought with privatisation of railways and myriad other utilities - all demanding individual tribute from every one of us. When you look out of the window of a Blackpool tram you are looking through Austrian glazing. The tram is running on rails produced in Germany, and even the woebegone shelters (soon to be replaced) were sourced from some forsaken supplier in central Europe. The trams themselves; now showing their age (all of five years) have excessive rattling underneath where all important wheels are sited. A class example of how we became from an exporter of transportation equipment (of all kinds) to the world - to being an end user of high priced imports exclusively benefitting foreign workers and multinational companies.

So its Spanish trains, German trams and Mercedes buses to ride on these days. All courtesy of our being part of the European Union. I can see why much of the business community and City of London adherents are keen for us to vote 'Ja' in the forthcoming EU plebiscite. Profits in our time enriching the corporate few.

Of course I look forward to riding on trains fit for this century as opposed to the last and wherever they originate. But it would be far far better that their manufacture benefitted communities and workforce in this country. After all we are paying for every last nut, bolt and electronic circuit. PS : I admit to admiring the quality of Blackpool's Mercedes buses - which were procured directly by BTS without 'benefit' of consultants. Hopefully the new ADL double deckers - UK built - will be to the same higher standard of finish and comfort.

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