Rail firm bidding to bring back traditional skills to famous Doncaster site

With around 1,400 staff, it is Doncaster's biggest private sector employer.

And Wabtec Faiveley UK - the rail firm currently on the site of what was once the Doncaster Plantworks - has new opportunities in its sights.

A Class 91 Locomotive pictured undergoing maintenance in the E2 Shop. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Wabtec MC 3

A Class 91 Locomotive pictured undergoing maintenance in the E2 Shop. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Wabtec MC 3

The firm's famous site in Hexthorpe, including the buildings where iconic engines such as Flying Scotsman and Mallard were built, has been used for many years as a major depot for the reconditioning of a legion of former British Rail locomotives and carriages.

But after a recent merger, bosses are hoping that more business could come their way in the near future.

The multi-billion pound merger is expected to be completed in early 2019, subject to approval by Wabtec shareholders, and regulatory authorities, and is expected to make Wabtec a global leader in the rail equipment, software and services business, with operations in more than 50 countries.

Commercial director at the Doncaster site, Mark Smith, said: "We are in the process of merging with GE Transportation as has been widely publicised in the media, and we will then become the one of the largest rail businesses in the world. We will be part of an £8 billion-a-year business employing 20,000 people.

A Wabtec Rail Welder pictured carrying out Corrosion repairs. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Wabtec MC 7

A Wabtec Rail Welder pictured carrying out Corrosion repairs. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Wabtec MC 7

"But we see it as opening up a wider market, offering us new opportunities."

It comes at a time when industry insiders see the railways as a booming industry in the borough.

There are local firms expected to be involved with the construction of HS2, and Wabtec Faiveley UK is not the only big rail employer in the borough.

But the industry is having to confront problems in finding the skilled labour they need.

Mr Smith said: "We have struggled to recruit in recent years - so we have been working with other sectors to try and attract talent to the business. We have been a sponsor of the bid for a University Technical College in Doncaster. We also supported the bid for the National College for High Speed rail, which now has one of its two sites based in Doncaster.

"Trainbuilding in the UK went through a down period, and that reduced the number of people with the skill sets demanded and it is still recovering from this.

"We are now offering opportunities and the training to make sure the skills are back here. The demographic of our staff is such that we have a lot in their 20s and a lot in their 50s and not so many in between.

"We are working to resurrect a number of key skills.

"We have opportunities for various skills but in particular at the moment we are recruiting welders, electricians and vehicle builders.

"This is a growth industry, and we are trying to make children aware of this in the schools.

Finding the engineers to do the work is not the only challenge in the industry.

While the firm has traditionally worked on BR rolling stock, bosses are keen to get involved with working on newer engines and carriages that are now being bought and operated by train operators are built by firms who have copyright and patents on some elements.

Mr Smith said: "We are keen to work with them, to assist in any way we can and to move on to working on more modern fleets. We have seen a massive influx of work due to the need to make trains more accessible for disabled passengers."

At present the firm is working on a number of projects which have transformed carriages. Some of the last remaining handle operated doors are being made automatic, many carriages are having air conditioning fitted, and disabled toilets are being installed.

Work to make sure all trains have toilets that are suitable for people with disabilities has been a substantial source of orders since the European Union brought in a directive called PRMTSI.

Mr Smith said: "It meant that trains had to have universal access to toilets, as well as passenger information screens and door sounders for people with visual impairment. That has been a real step change. Toilets in the railway world have been big business in recent years.

"However the deadline for completion of that programme nationally is December 2019 and we will need to progress to working more readily on the vehicles which have been introduced since privatisation."

As well as their key business areas, the firm also attracts a lot of attention from railway enthusiasts. Organised groups of enthusiasts are occasionally granted tours around a site which has long had a place in railway history.