Alstom has started construction of its new training academy and technology centre at Widnes in the UK.

The French train builder ceased manufacture in the UK at the end of 2004, once the order for Virgin Pendolino trains was complete, but it has maintained a service operation for those trains, with depots at Longsight (Manchester), Wembley (London), Oxley (Wolverhampton), Edge Hill (Liverpool) and Polmadie (Glasgow).

In May of this year, Alstom announced that “to make its operations in the UK more modern and efficient to support its growth in this market, particularly in the fast-growing service activities” it would spend €25 million on building a new technology centre at Widnes.

Andreas Knitter, Alstom’s senior vice-president for Europe, said at the time: “This new centre is part of our global strategy to grow our service activities by localising our operations close to our customers.

“The UK is one of the most exciting places in the world for train companies like Alstom to do business, so it’s important that we run the most efficient operation possible through modern facilities with the latest technology.”

Rail Minister Paul Maynard MP was present when work commenced at the site near Liverpool.

In a statement, he said: “We believe Britain can lead the world in the booming global rail industry, but we need a modern, highly skilled workforce to achieve this. That is why this new academy is an exciting and very welcome development for the North West.”

In reply, Alstom managing director in the UK and Ireland Nick Crossfield said: “Here in Widnes, we will create Alstom’s very own rail campus, bringing together our experienced team with the next generation of engineers and apprentices.

“Longer term, we would also be able to build trains here, for example for New Tube for London. The Government’s investment in the railways offers the UK a once-in-a-generation opportunity to completely transform the passenger experience, and at Alstom we want to build the trains that will deliver that.”

The first contract to be announced for the new facility, due to open in May 2017, is the repainting of the Pendolino fleet. Worth €28 million, this project will create the first 80 jobs at the new site.

So the intention seems to be to start as a training, servicing and technology centre, and then move into actual train assembly if the orders come through.

Only time will tell if those hopes are realised.

Report by Nigel Wordsworth.

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