Hopes for the survival of the Bombardier factory in Derby were given a fillip on Friday after Southern, the rail operator, began the process of ordering 130 new carriages.
Five companies have registered an interest in providing the trains, with Siemens, CAS, Alstom and Hitachi also set to compete for the contract, worth an estimated £200m.
Some industry watchers believe Bombardier has a good chance of winning, given that its trains already make up the majority of Southern’s fleet.
The contract has the potential to help tide over the factory until the large Crossrail contract – which would provide years of work for the winning company – is decided by the Department for Transport. “We’d be talking about safeguarding hundreds of jobs in Bombardier,” said one industry source.
Philip Hammond, transport secretary, and Vince Cable, business secretary, have delayed the Crossrail tendering for a year to 2014 while conducting a review of the UK’s rail procurement processes.
The Derby factory became a political hot potato after Germany’s Siemens was selected as preferred bidder for the £1.4bn Thameslink contract, precipitating the loss of more than 1,400 jobs by Canadian-owned Bombardier.
Unions have called for Britain to make procurement more similar to France and Germany, where protection of domestic jobs and industries is considered in the process.
Southern on Friday issued a pre-qualification questionnaire to potential suppliers, with the trains due for delivery no later than December 2013.
Separately Bombardier has also been invited to bid for work upgrading 57 CrossCountry trains, a £120m project, but there are doubts over whether it has the facilities to do so.
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