How Alstom is strengthening its global presence while advancing sustainable progress

Alstom is a global leader in the transportation sector, focusing on rail manufacturing, train services and signalling. As part of its commitment to contribute to a low carbon future, the company develops and markets integrated systems that provide foundations for greener and smarter global mobility, creating an efficient and sustainable operation that fosters a culture of integrity.  

As a pioneer in the sustainable rail operation space, Alstom produces alternative drives to replace diesel on non-electrified lines and is currently the only operator with hydrogen-powered fleets in commercial service. The business offers an entire range of zero direct-carbon emission rail technologies including hydrogen and battery-electric solutions – whether newbuild or retrofit – as well as the necessary infrastructure for sustainable power supply such as partial electrification and charging stations for batteries.  

Trains outside rail shedsFrom high-speed trains, metros, monorails and trams to turnkey systems, services, infrastructure, signalling and digital mobility, Alstom offers a diverse portfolio of industry solutions. With over 80,000 employees from 175 nationalities, Alstom operates in 63 countries, but prides itself on offering customer interaction at a local or regional level.  

To strengthen its global presence, particularly in the UK, Alstom acquired Bombardier Transportation (Bombardier) in January 2021. Integrating Bombardier into its operations has strengthened Alstom’s position as a leader in the sustainable mobility market, as well as adding a comprehensive product portfolio and unparalleled R&D capabilities to its activities.  

Peter Broadley, Managing Director of Services UK and Ireland, joins us to discuss Alstom’s ever-growing presence and how its portfolio has evolved in line with demands for more sustainable solutions. Peter also reflects on the Bombardier acquisition and how this has impacted Alstom’s UK operations.  

“We’re primarily a rail manufacturing and servicing company that has evolved over a long period of time,” Peter opens. “Perhaps one of the biggest changes came three years ago when we acquired Bombardier, as it transformed the business in terms of its size and global reach. As part of the deal, we acquired Bombardier’s manufacturing facility in Derby, England, providing us with UK manufacturing capabilities, which we hadn’t previously had since around 2008.  

“From a services perspective, it boosted the resources and capabilities of our portfolio, with a jump from 1200 employees to over 3000. We also went from managing 2000 vehicles to now supporting around 8000 vehicles, meaning we have a huge influence over public transport – specifically trains – in the UK. We see our ultimate customer as the British public; people rely on our products to travel, to commute, or even for social interactions. 

“The importance of the wider rail industry in the UK’s economy and public transport infrastructure cannot be understated,” he adds. “The UK Government supported the sector during the pandemic, with additional funding used to mitigate the consequences of COVID-19, such as ensuring job security. However, the industry is subject to political influence, and with a UK general election on the horizon, we must strive to ensure that the new government continues to support rail companies and manufacturers.” 

However, Peter is quick to highlight that although rail still plays a significant role in the UK’s public transport infrastructure, consumer use and behavior has changed in recent years. “Private operators have had to change their strategy to meet evolving consumer demand,” he elaborates. “Firstly, franchise contracts became more onerous and secondly, the pandemic changed the way people travel. People’s working patterns have changed due to remote working and the weekends have suddenly become much busier. 

“From a supplier perspective, you must adapt the maintenance schedule to ensure any required services occur during non-peak times, meaning the dynamic fluctuates with outsourcing and taking procurement in house. Of course, we rely on partners to outsource their maintenance to us and we’re currently seeing a debate on which option provides the best value for money. 

“Historically, the rail industry is notoriously cyclic, especially in terms of manufacturing. To mitigate this issue, we’re not only focusing on being cost-effective, but also driving the quality side, providing customers with greater service and an elevated level of quality. This reassures customers, knowing that when they work with us, they will receive the highest quality products and services.” 

Sustainable solutions 

Turning to sustainability, Peter continues: “While we have hydrogen-powered fleets in some countries, there are still many diesel trains that will continue to operate, and we must figure out how to operate them more effectively and efficiently. We’ve implemented a system called intelligent engine shutdown, for instance, which has GPS trackers to automatically switch the engine off in certain conditions to save fuel and consequently reduce emissions.  

“The other option is to install batteries, but we’re also developing a new hybrid electric and battery train, which we are introducing into Ireland next year. These trains draw power from overhead electric wires but are capable of switching to a battery when running on non-electrified lines. The ultimate goal is to have trains that don’t burn any fossil fuels and promote circular economies running across the UK. However, sustainable solutions aren’t cheap and so there’s often a personal or professional motivation behind investing in sustainability.” 

Industry innovation 

As our conversation ends, Peter reflects on his career with Alstom. “I’ve come full circle in my career since starting in the railway industry in 1996 as a commercial graduate trainee for Adtranz,” he recalls. “Although I’ve worked for a few different companies over the course of my career, I now sit at a desk just five meters from that of my first job at Adtranz, as the business was acquired by Bombardier in 2001, which was then later acquired by Alstom in 2021.  

“I’ve had the privilege to work in several departments, projects and operations within a variety of roles, as well as developing my commercial knowledge in both the UK and China. I think the rail industry is one of the best kept secrets in terms of your ability to progress and develop within a career. At Alstom, we offer an extensive apprenticeship scheme, as well as bringing in graduates and military leavers to broaden our talent pool and offer progression.” 

Peter’s vision for Alstom’s future is dominated by sustainable progress. “2024 will see us introduce a brand-new fleet of electric trains on lines across South West London and the West Midlands, which is very exciting for rail passengers in those areas,” he reveals. “We’re also currently in the application process for an operating license for open access passenger trains between Wrexham, Wales and London, which will be a slight change of direction for us as we look to strengthen our presence as a train operator in the UK market.  

“Further afield, we’ll see HS2 trains – built by us in a joint venture with Hitachi – coming into service alongside other interesting developments across the industry,” Peter adds. “Our factory in Derby has huge potential, especially as demand for sustainable solutions and hydrogen technology continues to rise. Hydrogen is an interesting solution that we’re already running in Germany, France and Italy, but it’s attractive to the UK market too. Alongside production capabilities, we’re looking to enhance our portfolio of signalling and digital systems by using technologies like AI to improve reliability and sustainability.”