Our insider imagines what the DfT’s top civil servant, Lin Homer, might think about the fate of Bombardier in the UK and McNulty.

Well, I guess the reaction to the decision to award the Thameslink rolling stock contract to Siemens was predictable and inevitable. I have to say that the most absurd reaction was from Maria Eagle, Labour’s transport spokesman, whose statement bemoaned the fact that the government had “passed up the opportunity to boost British manufacturing and help secure jobs and growth the economy needs” without accepting that Siemens will be creating some 2,000 jobs in the UK as a result of this order.

And let’s not forget that Siemens has a huge industrial footprint and a major workforce of circa 16,000 in the UK already – somewhat more than Bombardier, a name that most people probably associate more with a pint of bitter than trains! And of course, it was the Labour government which originally awarded the IEP order to Hitachi, that well known Japanese company with no rolling stock manufacturing presence in the UK, instead of Bombardier. Still, when did an opposition spokesman ever let the facts get in the way of a good headline!

So we are told that Derby may now close once its current order book declines – rapidly – after September. Bombardier has threatened this many times before, of course. They might mean it this time, for sure. And, rather to my surprise, ministers do suddenly seem to have become spooked by all of this, questioning how it is that the UK interprets EU procurement law in such away that we happily give major contracts to overseas suppliers, while other EU countries interpret the law so that they manage to always award contracts to their home grown national companies.

Philip Hammond is even talking of a review of the whole issue and, jointly with business secretary Vince Cable, has written to No 10. This is in danger of going political, big time, although there is a very loud sound of a stable door being slammed shut well after the horse has bolted! We need to be careful here. Let’s not forget that Bombardier is actually a Canadian company, not British, which some people conveniently forget from time to time, and much of its own supply chain for building new trains is outside the UK! And with Siemens promising 2,000 additional new jobs in the UK, what’s the problem?

As for the rail industry more generally, I have to say I am nervous about the make up of the Rail Delivery Group following the McNulty study. The almost total domination of this group by the TOCs sends a strange signal to other parts of the industry which have important roles to play in delivering a cheaper and more efficient railway but which will have no formal voice at the top table.

And whether the TOCs, who at the end of the day have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders not the taxpayer, are really able to act in the wider public interest remains to be seen.

But with McNulty firmly endorsing the need for the government to stand back from micro management of the industry, I think it was right for us not to intervene in the make up and establishment of the group. I hope the TOCs can rise to the challenge and show genuine leadership here. Time will tell.

It will be interesting, in this context, to see whether the spirit of co-operation and brotherly love that McNulty clearly wants to see break out across the industry can actually materialise. This is a huge leap of faith, I suspect. McNulty bemoans the contractual rather than partnership-based approach to relationships, describing this as a barrier to improving the efficiency of the railway and to good decision making. But I rather suspect the TOCs take considerable comfort in the contractual nature of their relationships. Strategic partnerships certainly work in other industries, but I wonder whether the culture that pervades the railway industry, and the way it is now set up, is yet able to embrace this approach.

McNulty talks too of an “onus” on all parties to commit to delivering a more efficient railway. This has a somewhat moral overtone to it all which hard nosed, commercially focused businessmen may find hard to embrace. I don’t dissent from the sentiment. We have to deliver a cheaper, more cost effective railway if, to use the words of the previous chief executive of the ORR, “taxpayer funding of the railways is not put at risk”. But relying on the moral integrity and public spiritedness of private companies to achieve this is a challenging concept!

This story appeared in the latest issue of Passenger Transport. Click here to subscribe.