‘It was the crown jewel’: Inside Britain’s last train makers – and why French bosses are closing it

‘It was the crown jewel’: Inside Britain’s last train makers – and why French bosses are closing it

Mr Foxall says the flurry of attention from politicians and journalists had raised spirits at the plant, but morale has since reached rock bottom. While workers wait for an update, Alstom’s workshops, where one might expect to hear a different radio station every few feet, are eerily quiet. Most of these people have nothing to do.

Another building, capable of housing hundreds of designers, is all but deserted save for a few hangers-on. It is unclear what will happen to the site if it is closed, but Mr Foxall maintains there is a “staunch contingent” of loyal employees clinging to hope it will survive the next year and a half.

“I’m not planning to retire until I hit the state pension age,” he says. “My job is to keep the factory open. There are fourth-generation workers here – and we need to keep it open for them.

“There’s a staunch team of us on-site, including myself, who want to keep the place open,” he continues. “We’re determined to stay to the bitter end to make sure that happens, holding onto that little bit of hope there’s a future here.”

Derby remains home to the British headquarters of Rolls-Royce, which last month announced a £55 million investment in its test and shop capacity. Like Alstom, it runs a robust apprenticeship scheme and it is estimated to employ around 15,700 people in Derby alone.

Toyota also has a manufacturing plant in Burnaston, in the south of the county. But in 2022 the Japanese car maker warned the Government it was considering pulling out of Britain entirely over concerns it would not be able to meet net zero targets.

In the end, Toyota stayed put, but Derby Mayor Alan Graves – the first from Reform to hold the position after decades of power being exchanged by the two major parties – worries the exodus of employers bodes ill for the future of the East Midlands. 

“We just seem to have allowed Alstom to leave, so the medium-term strategy for the train industry in this country has failed,” he says. “Alstom had a great apprenticeship scheme and nothing is coming to replace it – and what about those workers who are in their 50s? Where are they going to go?”

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