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New contracts help Bombardier bounce back in Britain

An employee passes components used in the assembly of London Underground tube train carriages at Britain's sole remaining railcar factory, operated by Bombardier Inc. and known as Litchurch Lane, in Derby, U.K., on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011.

Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Ben Field seemed somewhat out of place as he manned Bombardier Inc.'s booth at the annual convention of Britain's Labour Party.

Montreal-based Bombardier was among just a handful of companies to have a booth at the convention's trade show, which featured displays by several unions and social activists such as the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Animal Equality, Socialist Societies and Global Justice Now.

"We're here to spread the word, shall I say," Mr. Field said with a smile. He acknowledged he was a bit of a misfit at the conference since he has never voted Labour, isn't interested in politics and doesn't even belong to a union. "To be honest, I'm quite unsold on politics."

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Nonetheless, Mr. Field eagerly talked to onlookers about Bombardier's train-making facility in Derby and the £1-billion contract ($1.7-billion), the company recently won to build 660 rail cars for the East Anglia rail network.

That contract and an earlier deal to build cars for the Crossrail project in London, also worth around £1-billion, has breathed new life into the Derby operation, which nearly closed five years ago.

"At the moment, the future is bright," said Mr. Field, a 19-year old apprentice who is studying to become an engineer while he works for Bombardier. "The opportunities are there."

The Derby plant, which is part of the company's Berlin-based train subsidiary called Bombardier Transportation, has been making trains since the 1870s and is one of the few train-making facilities left in Britain. Today, around 1,600 people work at the plant and Mr. Field said even Brexit has provided something of a boost.

"The general feeling, especially on the shop floor at work, was that especially with previous contracts going to [Germany's] Siemens, Europe wasn't flavour of the month any more," he said, adding that being based in Britain should help the company win more British contracts. He added that most of the Bombardier workers in Derby voted for Britain to leave the EU, although he backed Remain.

The East Anglia contract runs until 2025. The operator, Dutch-based Abellio, has pledged to invest £1.4-billion on the service, which runs along the eastern part of England and connects cities such as Norwich to London. Earlier this year, Bombardier won another contract from Abellio for 43 trains on the Stuttgart regional network in Germany worth about $244-million.

Bombardier nearly closed the plant in 2011 after it lost a contract to supply trains for Britain's Thameslink rail service to Siemens. The city and national government rallied to save the operation and Bombardier won the Crossrail contract in 2014.

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Last year, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec injected $1.5-billion (U.S.) for a 30-per-cent stake in Bombardier Transportation.

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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