Wolverton Works Plaque by Phil Marsh

The world’s oldest railway works enters administration

Published 2nd August 2013

175th anniversary approaches with uncertainty

Around 275 jobs at Wolverton Works another 200 at Springburn Works in Glasgow are at risk after Railcare entered Administration on July 31.

These are two of the few facilities in the UK that can carry out overhauls on BR era built trains of the 1970s and 1980s. Wolverton Works had 5000 employees a century ago in its heyday and everyone in Wolverton, Stony Stratford and Newport Pagnell has family that worked there. This is why there is tremendous interest in the Works, especially as its 175th anniversary approaches with the attendant celebrations next month.

By Royal Appointment

If the Works close, then the Royal Train will need to find a new home after 147 years. The main Royal Train has been based at Wolverton for 98 years and carriages for it were built there in 1975 and 1984. The train was to be privatised in 1997 but the sale was avoided by constructing a faulty business case, deliberately.

The train depot at Bletchley is only six miles away and is secure and unused at the moment so could be an option for relocation and the workforce could also stay with the train if it remains locally based. This was under consideration a few years ago by Railcare as an option to move away from Wolverton to avoid paying the high rental charges for the site.

By Royal Appointment

If the Works close, then the Royal Train will need to find a new home after 147 years. The main Royal Train has been based at Wolverton for 98 years and carriages for it were built there in 1975 and 1984. The train was to be privatised in 1997 but the sale was avoided by constructing a faulty business case, deliberately.

The train depot at Bletchley is only six miles away and is secure and unused at the moment so could be an option for relocation and the workforce could also stay with the train if it remains locally based. This was under consideration a few years ago by Railcare as an option to move away from Wolverton to avoid paying the high rental charges for the site.

Lease and planning tangles

The Works a tangle of property leases involving St. Modwyn and Alstom who sub lease it to Railcare and it’s pretty certain that the costs escalate because of this. Two years ago, Railcare Wolverton was looking to relocate to what is known as the Dulux buildings – part of the former Works themselves - alongside McConnell Drive.

This would have released them from the onerous lease conditions that they now have for the whole Works area including the many unused buildings adding to their cost base. There was to be an open weekend at this time which Railcare had to withdraw from as the financial situation was understood to be critical then as well. Tesco has been involved in planning consent issues creating more uncertainty over the last few years.

The Royal Trainshed is subject to a separate lease granting access for over a hundred years across the land and onto the West Coast Main Line and this is something that would be expensive to renegotiate for any prospective purchaser of the site.

Apprentices

Wolverton has a team of apprentices which are excellent and work on many types of trains including the Victorian wooden bodied carriage used on the 150th anniversary of London Underground this year. For the third year running, they have reached the UK finals of a national Apprentice competition.

Accident repair shop

Railcare has developed a sideline in repairing railway vehicles and they probably repair 75% of all damage. They have just completed a train for South West Trains which had a concrete mixing lorry fall on it from a road bridge for example.

Ironic that we are within 50 days of the 175th anniversary on Sept 17 and the anniversary book is being delivered this morning.

Full order book

110 Greater Anglia Carriages are to be modernised and have disabled passenger facilities installed which will make sure they comply with disabled travel legislation. A £15million Heathrow Express train refurbishment contract has just been completed and work on the large Class 365 First Capital Connect fleet contract has just started. First Great Western’s Class 165 fleet is also due to go through Wolverton Works for overhaul starting in October.

The order book suggested that the workforce was secured for three or four years but perhaps the debt and lease charges were overwhelming. Either way, many train franchises will be worried about how they will be able to carry on running their contracted services if their trains cannot be maintained.

Nearly sold

Rolling Stock companies have been worried for some time that Wolverton’s finances have been fragile and that their choice would be limited as to where to go to get their trains overhauled. The company is understood to have been sold over last weekend but for some reason it fell through at the last minute. It is thought that the purchaser was to be Knorr-Bremse a well known UK rail supplier which has a multi-billion Euro turnover in Europe.

Other similar companies like Doncaster’s Wabtec and the Eastleigh based Arlington Fleet Services are also likely to be contacted by the Administrators to see if they want to take over the business. The staff were being briefed by Directors today, the early shift this morning and the late shift this afternoon about what may lay in store.

Larger effect of closedown – Why the Works should be kept running

If the Works cannot fulfill its many contracts, then this could hit franchise train operators as they will be short of trains to meet their franchise commitments with The Department for Transport (DfT). If trains cannot be overhauled on time as specified by safety legislation, then they will be withdrawn from service until the work is carried out.

The Rolling Stock companies will suffer from this as well causing more uncertainty in our rail system. Most of todays new train fleets include a 25 to 30 year maintenance contract with the manufacturer as with the South West Trains and London Midland Siemens Fleets and the Virgin Alstom Pendolinos.

Freight may also be hit as the UK’s largest wagon leasing company, VTG, uses Wolverton to maintain and overhaul their wagons, wheels, brakes and bogies. Freight is booming so all wagons are required as are passenger vehicles.

The RMT union has claimed that problems surfaced when staff were not paid and that Vince Cable and the Government has rejected a plea for help concerning a £1 million loan to keep Railcare afloat.

Administration details

Administrators BDO have been appointed to see what they can do with Railcare and were appointed on July 31.

They said:

"The Joint Administrators are currently liaising with customers to understand their exact requirements, so trading may continue in administration while a purchaser for the business and assets is sought." BDO business restructuring partner Kim Rayment said: “Unfortunately the economic climate and difficult trading conditions significantly affected the business, together with reduced demand. However, we are hopeful of securing a sale and, depending on customer requirements, the Company may continue to trade whilst this is explored.”

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “RMT is calling on Vince Cable and the Government to step in to secure the future of these 500 key rail fleet engineering jobs following the collapse of Railcare. The Government cannot sit on their hands and watch this situation play out for the want of what we believe is not much more than a million pounds of cash flow finance. Reports that Railcare have already been turned down for assistance make a mockery of the Government’s business strategy and their stated objective of protecting skilled jobs."

The history of Wolverton Works has been documented in a new book to be published on September 3 and is called The Full Works – Celebrating 175 years of Wolverton Works. Full details and all information on the Administration will be posted on www.wolverton175.co.uk as it emerges.

Written by Phil Marsh

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