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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Brexit means Brexit

Forward contracts for capital spending involving imported equipment and rolling stock for Britain's railways and its light rail market cannot assume business as usual. Whilst existing orders embedded in legal contracts and delivery agreements must naturally be honoured - the sterling depreciation in relation to foreign currencies especially the Euro and the dollar (to name but two) mean imports are now significantly more expensive to the public and private purse.

The news that Blackpool Council have committed to ordering two further examples of the Bombardier tram model ahead of the North Station extension with its call for further service capacity - has come quickly but not unexpected. The extension has given rise to a surge of letter writing from disgruntled locals urging better use of Council spending - but the fundamental development plans for the Talbot Gateway district along with urgent need to improve the physical infrastructure along Talbot Road to the Promenade take understandable priority.

The procurement rules governing public financing of capital projects will no longer be hidebound by the fanciful sleight of hand of Brussels officials which has led to UK public sector contracts favouring manufacturers sited outside Britain. The days when trains and trams must end up being assembled in Spain France, Belgium Germany and anywhere but Britain will soon come to an end. It logically should lead to the emergence of domestic manufacturing and importantly the design and development of new generations of rolling stock.

Blackpool's transport system, still one of the few remaining in public ownership, has been a contributor to product development involving trams. This was of course on a modest basis and did not always work out the way partners intended. Nonetheless the town kept faith with electric railed traction in the UK when all others with a herd instinct embraced the petro chemical lobby, even to the exclusion of the environmentally clean trolleybus. Blackpool's final efforts saw an credible chapter of home grown one person operated trams; and in a later partnership with a Blackburn based company resulted in eight final all British trams being delivered in the 1980s. These ran up to 2011. Disability Access rules meant a more resourceful design two decades later - favouring the cartel of tram builders building their products in Europe but not here. Not that the Bombardier products are in anyway inferior, apart that is from the clatter and rumbling which seem to bedevil those operating along the promenade.

If countries like Poland, Spain, Slovakia, Russia and China can fast track the design and development of modern trams with indigenous companies - it is certainly possible, indeed probable, that post Brexit Britain can achieve the same. A nudge to engineering and technology firms in the north; given the lead time involved for future rail and light rail contracts on termination of Britain's inclusion in the EU is called for. We need a radical new approach to vehicle and equipment sourcing that favours British jobs and companies - and away with lobbyists and middlemen promoting foreign product sourcing to Westminster politicians. Quite apart from the much more expensive tab inflicted on such equipment with sterling now buying only 1.19 Euro.

Central Europe - domestic manufacture for the single route system in Debrecen. Well before the low floor design requirement (or Hungary joining the EU) - quite a creditable design for a small town close to the border with Ukraine. Image : John Woodman

One British company is known to have come up with a stylish and acceptable low floor double deck tram design for Blackpool in the years leading up to the great light rail upgrade. But Brussels procurement rules prevented it getting a look in. Now that the worm has turned (er: I mean the voters have given their choice) we are assured by the Prime Minister that Brexit Britain is going to make a 'go of it' perhaps more innovative and entrepreneurial minds will be encouraged to effect real change in this one small area of vehicle design and development (and production). At least we now have our new buses from Falkirk to show an example of how it can be done.

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