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£20m rail technology centre for Widnes
Published: 24th October 2016
This Article was Written by: Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group
Global transportation specialist Alstom has announced the start of work on building its new rail training academy and technology centre in Widnes, following an official groundbreaking ceremony on October 7th.
UK rail minister Paul Maynard attended the ceremony, which marked the ‘official’ start of construction work at the Widnes site.
The new technology centre and training academy is due to open by May 2017 at a cost of around €25 million and will provide up to 15,000 hours of rail industry training each year, as well as supporting an estimated 600 long-term job opportunities for the local workforce.
It already has its first contract scheduled – repainting the Virgin West Coast Main Line fleet of 56 Class 390 Pendolino tilting trains – and this alone is valued at more than the cost of constructing the technology centre, an estimated €28 million.
The Virgin project alone should support the first 80 jobs on-site from May 2017, but is only a small part of Alstom’s ambitions in the UK, with services for all kinds of high-speed trains, including single and double-deck carriages, tilting and non-tilting varieties.
Mr Maynard 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.
“We aim to create 30,000 apprenticeships across the country in road and rail by 2020. We want to attract the brightest young minds into the business and promote the cutting-edge and highly technical careers on offer in today’s rail industry.”
Halton Borough Council leader Rob Polhill welcomed Alstom to Widnes, calling the development “fantastic news” both for the local area in Halton and for the wider Liverpool City Region.
Councillor Polhill pointed out that the employment benefits from the scheme do not just include the direct positions, of which several hundred are expected to be made available, but also the opportunities that will be unlocked for local residents who attend the training academy.
“The Council has been striving for many years to get the site connected to nearby rail infrastructure,” he said. “Not only will Alstom use that rail connection, but they are investing in their own on-site rail infrastructure too.”
Nick Crossfield, managing director for Alstom in the UK and Ireland, was also present at the groundbreaking ceremony, and said that the UK is still “one of the most exciting places in the world” for rail specialists.
By creating the technology centre and training academy, he added that Alstom will not just provide hundreds of jobs and apprenticeships, but will also boost the UK supply chain.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Asif Hamid, interim chair of the Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, also welcomed Alstom’s investment into the region, and pledged to work closely with the company in the future to support further plans for investment and expansion.
“Alstom’s €25 million technology centre and training academy development will bring a state-of-the-art facility to Halton and create jobs and growth for generations to come,” he predicted.
“Their investment will contribute significantly to the City Region’s advanced manufacturing sector and the regional economy as a whole.”