Derek Twigg MP, Labour Member of Parliament for Halton, has taken part in the Railway Industry Association’s Rail Fellowship Programme, an initiative established in 2018 which brings politicians onto rail sites to help them develop an understanding of the on-the-ground workings of the industry.
The Fellowship Programme is seen as an important mechanism for ensuring politicians are in touch with key issues and workings of the industry. RIA is therefore keeping the programme going, even though traditional visits are not possible due to Coronavirus (COVID-19), continuing the programme virtually at a time when constructive dialogue between politics and industry is more essential than ever.
Chris Loder MP, Conservative Member of Parliament for West Dorset and a member of the Transport Select Committee, made virtual visits to four railway industry suppliers in June as part of the Fellowship Programme. Continuing on this theme, Derek Twigg ‘visited’ Alstom’s Widnes Transport Technology Centre, situated in his constituency, to see how work has continued during lockdown, after significant social distancing and other limitations were put in place to ensure the workforce can carry out their day-to-day work safely.
During the MP’s virtual visit, Alstom and RIA also explained the decarbonisation challenge facing the rail sector and the role hydrogen rail can play in reducing transport emissions in the UK. In particular, Alstom showcased its hydrogen train programme, in partnership with Eversholt Rail, to fast-track the hydrogen train industry in the UK with the ‘Breeze’ hydrogen-powered train – an entirely new class of train, the first-ever 600 series.
The visit followed Alstom and Eversholt Rail’s recent announcement of a further investment of £1 million to help Breeze be ready for early deployment in the UK to meet the government’s need to decarbonise the rail industry.
Following his visit, Derek Twigg MP commented: “It was a fantastic opportunity to hear from both Alstom and the Railway Industry Association about the hard-work that is going in to keeping the railways running during the pandemic and the pipeline of exciting projects ahead that will see the UK pioneer the hydrogen rail sector.
“The government has a duty to realise the potential the North West holds in becoming the country’s hydrogen hub, starting with the investment in hydrogen rail such as the Breeze here in my own constituency at Widnes.
“I am hugely thankful to both Alstom and RIA for hosting the virtual visit and call on my fellow MPs to engage with their local rail suppliers to see the incredible work they continue to carry out and the innovative ways they can revolutionise our railways.”
John Clerk, head of operations (Widnes) at Alstom, responded: “Derek has been a long-time champion of our Widnes facility and the hard-working staff employed there, particularly during these unprecedented times.
“We are also grateful for Derek’s support for our exciting hydrogen train programme – we truly believe hydrogen rail will lead the charge in decarbonising the UK’s railways and welcome his call on government to seize the opportunity to invest in the North West as the country’s hydrogen hub, with our Breeze train at its core.”
David Clarke, technical director of the Railway Industry Association, commented: “Alongside a rolling programme of electrification for intensively used routes, hydrogen is one of the key solutions for helping decarbonise less busy lines where electrification cannot be justified. It also has the potential to help in the shorter term by reducing the use of diesel trains on lines which will eventually be electrified.
“Hydrogen trains have been proven to work and we are waiting on a fleet order to stimulate the UK market. We join Derek in his call on government to accelerate their commitments to hydrogen and other technologies like batteries, to achieve the sector’s decarbonisation targets, and thank Alstom for hosting this virtual visit for helping to put the issue on the forefront of the industry’s agenda.”