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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

What has the EU done for the UK light rail industry ?

Actually the header should read 'What the EU has done to the UK light rail industry'.

Above : a nice German tram coming to a stop near you ! One of the early deliveries from Bautzen - 3012 one of over a hundred high platform trams serving the people of Greater Manchester.

In reality made a whopping great profit for a handful of foreign companies; provided a large number of jobs in European factories and assembly plants - and satisfied the shareholders / pension funds with stakes in a small number of foreign corporations.

To get a sense of how much UK taxpayer money through grants administered by that font of all knowledge and distributor of UK public capital - the Department for Transport - it is worth spending a few minutes examining the excellent database maintained by another tram website - British Trams Online under its 'Fleet List' heading.

Here the breakdown of every tram/light rail vehicle operated in the UK makes clear the origins of vehicles that run on tramways from Edinburgh to Croydon - year of supply and manufacturer. Not a British company in sight. Only the listings of the diverse museum (heritage) lines and individual restoration projects are the preserve of UK built equipment.

Nor does this imbalance stop there. Due diligence into the supply of tram rail (all of it) overhead infrastructure, depot maintenance equipment and the like - all carrying substantial capital expenditure are to the benefit (more or less) of foreign - namely (EU) suppliers. If UK politicians were to take a long hard look at the procurement practises in North America where light rail development has really taken off over the past two decades - some wonderful lessons in value added content would become evident. Namely that companies wanting to sell their product to operations which draw down US Federal (ie taxpayer) dollars need to assure that over 50% of total end value of a new tram accrue within the United States. Hence the establishment of new assembly plants by lead suppliers - including of course tram rail and infrastructure. No doubt this excellent proviso could have led to a Bombardier plant in the Greater Manchester area - or somewhere in the North West of England - that 'Northern Powerhouse' which the Government endlessly twitters on about.

The real answer to the header is 'sweet fa' and it will remain that way until such time as this country exits the EU; or those responsible for approving capital grants from public funds mandate a similar policy to the one strictly adhered to in the USA.

Of course there is one rule for the UK and another for countries like Germany, Poland and France in the expensive world of tram procurement. For Germany almost exclusively ensures German built rolling stock is sourced for its many tramways; and France likewise miraculously adheres to the Alstom group for sourcing of almost all new trams not only in France itself but those overseas markets where it traditionally has influence - namely Algeria and Tunisia and now even Ireland and Nottingham ! Blackpool of course is now captive customer for that creative firm - Bombardier; so we can expect little competitive tendering to emerge for any additional trams required for the North Station extension. What was Tesco's punchline - 'Every little Helps' the missing word is 'Us'. Have a nice day.

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