What next for Siemens Alstom in the UK?

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Staff at the launch of Alstom's train modernisation centre in Widnes. Credit: Alstom.
Staff at the launch of Alstom's train modernisation centre in Widnes. Credit: Alstom.

On September 26, it was announced that Alstom and the Siemens Mobility would merge, or, as the joint press release stated; a “Franco-German merger of equals”.

What are the implications, particularly for the UK?

Rolling stock

Whilst Alstom has not won any recent tenders for new trains in the UK, it is very active in providing maintenance services for both the Pendolino and London Underground’s
1995 tube stocks.

It has also supplied the Citadis trams for Nottingham Express Transit and supports its other reasonably recent products, diesel multiple units, classes 175, 180 and electric multiple unit class 458 as well as London Underground 1996 tube stock.

In contrast, Siemens has supplied or has on order nearly 3,000 cars, the majority of which it maintains.

Over two thirds of these cars are operated by just two operators (South Western – classes
444, 450, 707 – and GTR – classes 700 and forthcoming 717).

Looking forward, both companies have tendered for London Underground’s Deep Tube programme for up to 250 trains and, no doubt, will have expressed interest in the ‘conventional compatible’ trains for HS2, the forthcoming large requirement for the Docklands Light Railway and whatever bidders for the forthcoming South Eastern franchise might require.

We might perhaps one day see designs that originated with Siemens being assembled at Widnes. More widely, with both Alstom and Siemens having competing product platforms over virtually the entire range of passenger rolling stock from trams to high speed, consolidation of designs and, no doubt production facilities, is inevitable.


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Signalling 

Alstom and Siemens dominate the UK signalling market, and this consolidation will no
doubt be a concern to Network Rail.

That said, perhaps the increased strength of the merged companies provides further opportunities for innovative funding so keenly sought by Network Rail and the government, particularly in the context of the Digital Railway/ERTMS programme.

London Underground’s Victoria and Central lines depend on different Siemens’ legacy proprietary automatic train control products.

It will be interesting to see whether Alstom’s Urbalis or Siemens’ Trainguard MT becomes the group’s preferred metro product or whether they co-exist.

It would be easy to say that ERTMS sets a standard for main line signalling (at least in areas influenced by European standards) but the two companies still have their own products for both sides of the ERTMS defined air gap and communication protocols and messages. Rationalisation is inevitable.

Infrastructure

it was at Innotrans in 2016 that Alstom highlighted to Rail Engineer the increasing importance of infrastructure work to their business, when they demonstrated, inter alia, resilient sleepers and electrification catenary systems.

In partnership with Babcock and Costain, the ABC partnership has been fitting out the tunnel sections of Crossrail with the railway systems and has been electrifying the Edinburgh-Glasgow route.

Despite what might be described as “challenges” on other electrification schemes, these two contracts are being delivered largely on time and to cost.

Next steps

We must remember that the merger has only just been announced. It will probably take many months before regulatory permission is obtained, and then it will be interesting to observe which products become dominant.


Read more: Siemens Alstom: 9 key questions answered


This article was written by Malcom Dobell, an experienced railway engineer who was formerly the head of train systems for London Underground, working on the engineering of every train fleet on the network.