[FR] How to maintain the rail and industrial activities at the site of Belfort? An update:

Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Economy and Finance, Elisabeth Borne, Minister for Transport attached to the Minister of State and Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, and Henri Poupart-Lafarge, Alstom Chairman and CEO, convened today at Belfort the national committee in charge of monitoring the commitments made for the maintenance of this industrial site. This third convening of the monitoring committee brought together local and national trade unions, as well as the relevant elected representatives.

Published by Alstom on 26.10.2017, comments by Railcolor

In terms of contracts, SNCF Mobilités’ order of 15 Euroduplex TGV trainsets to extend and modernise its train fleet on the Atlantic corridor was approved by the company’s Board of Directors on 23 February 2017, and notification given to Alstom. In parallel, SNCF Réseau confirms its need for 20 emergency locomotives. The contract specifications will shortly be submitted to its Procurement Commission for a call for tender that could be launched at the end of the year. The contract should be awarded at the end of 2018. Finally, the State, SNCF Mobilités and the AFITF signed the financing agreement for the 30 TET/TER Regiolis trains on 27 February. SNCF Mobilités notified Alstom of the order in April. The first deliveries from the Reichshoffen site are scheduled for autumn 2018.

Currently the first Akiem BB 36000 locomotives get a mid-life upgrade in Belfort – Photo: Alstom

Regarding Alstom’s commitments, the plan to make Belfort the European centre of reference for locomotive maintenance continues: the Services activity currently employs 70 people and has workload for the next 3 years, thanks in particular to a contract for the mid-life overhaul of 30 locomotives (Railcolor: Akiem BB 36000 series locomotives). In addition, Alstom has already invested nearly 1 million euros in the development of a new industrial building dedicated to maintenance, which is now nearing completion, and its connection to the rail tracks. The State, local authorities, SNCF Réseau and Alstom have provided additional funding of 852,000 euros for the electrification of the plant’s test track, which is currently under construction.

Design studies of the Alstom H4 from 2015 – The SBB locomotives will have a more conventional design – Image: Alstom

Alstom continues to invest in the development of the new Prima H4 locomotive platform. More than 100 people from the Research and Industrialisation departments are currently involved in its development. The State will continue to support Alstom in the development of the new platform, both through the support of the ADEME, decided last autumn and representing 4 million euros, and through export markets on which the company can position itself. After an initial commercial success in Switzerland with an order for 47 Prima H4 locomotives from SBB in November 2015, Alstom is carrying out extensive work to promote the new platform.

Nothing official, but twitter user @tgvdu45 made a rendering of a Alstom Avelia concept design in SNCF livery. For sure the knowledge and experience gained with this Avelia design, which is currently developed for Amtrak in the USA for example, will be used for the TGV 2020 project:

In addition, key milestones have been reached in the development of the TGV 2020 as part of the innovation partnership between Alstom and SNCF, in which Alstom is investing 30 million euros at Belfort. More than 60 people from the Engineering and Industrialisation departments are working on defining the specifications for the new generation of TGV power cars. Given the opportunities for renewal of the French TGV fleet, the TGV 2020 is a crucial issue for the sites of Belfort and La Rochelle, as well as for the entire French industry. The TGV business model in particular needs to be redesigned and reinforced. This is the motivating factor of the work begun by the Government and whose conclusions will be delivered in January 2018.

Regarding the diversification of the site, Alstom has begun programmes focusing on automatic locomotive operation and fuel cells.

Lastly, the Belfort site has invested 3 million euros in modernising its industrial facilities, particularly in relation to the industry of the future. The Government and the Chief Executive Officer of Alstom are delighted to have achieved several major milestones in the continuity plan for the rail activities of the Belfort site, and will continue to pay close attention to its implementation.

Bruno Le Maire reaffirmed the State’s commitment to maintain Alstom’s industrial site at Belfort: “The commitments made in the context of Alstom’s merger with Siemens guarantee the sustainability of this site. Beyond this, the State will work closely with the new entity to ensure the competitiveness of the site and its outlets in France and abroad. The Belfort site must be at the heart of the development of the TGV of the future: it is the best guarantee for the future.”

Elisabeth Borne highlighted the work begun by the Government to build an ambitious rail strategy for the country: “The rail industry needs a clear, long-term perspective on the strategy of rail transport. The work we have begun will secure future SNCF orders and Alstom’s load plan.”

Following the convening of the national monitoring committee, Henri Poupart-Lafarge, Alstom Chairman and CEO, said: “Today, we were able to confirm that Alstom and all the stakeholders are fully dedicated to securing the technological leadership and industrial future of the Belfort site. We are investing in developing the power cars of the TGV of the Future as well as in our Prima H4 locomotive platform, while continuing our sales efforts in France and internationally. In parallel, we are continuing to develop the Belfort site as a European centre of reference for locomotive maintenance, and to build the future of the site by diversifying its activities.”

Belfort is currently still home base of the development and partial production of locomotives – Ten Prima M4 locomotives are in production for Azerbadzjan – production of Prima locomotives in India, Russia and Kazakhstan is being supported – KZ8A production in 2012 – Photo: Alstom

Railcolor: some background information:

In September 2016 Alstom announced it was planning to cease locomotive production in Belfort in 2018. Locomotive production in France, for which the outlook is still very uncertain at this moment, would than be taken to Alstom’s Reichshoffen plant. Back then, Alstom stated it was “a strategic decision as it was experiencing a considerable drop in sales, forcing the company to reduce its production capacity in France.” As of 2018, Belfort than would focus solely on locomotive maintenance and servicing, which means 400 of 480 jobs would be lost. However, all employees would offered a new position in one of Alstom’s other production facilities.

Employees, labour unions and also the French government (election time!) actively intervened and are since then trying to come with a ‘rescue plan’ for the factory, as it is of great importance to regional employment and because Alstom/Belfort is a symbol of the French traditional industry. Above you can read how all parties try to help and convince Alstom to keep as many jobs as possible in Belfort.

The project is controversial, as there is always the question whether or not governments should intervene in the strategy of a private company. Next to that, direct (financial) state aid is forbidden by EU law.
And make it even more complicated; Back in 2016, the French government was shareholder of Alstom (20%), but this is now changing. As a result of the planned merger with Siemens, the Macron-government is selling of its share.