Alstom Denies Attempt to Blackmail France Over Train Jobs

  • TGV-maker wasn’t trying to get new orders, CEO tells lawmakers
  • Politicians oppose plan to relocate 400 workers to new plants

Alstom SA rejected accusations by lawmakers that a plan to move 400 train-manufacturing workers to different sites in France was a ruse to win more contracts from state-owned transportation companies.

“I am a bit shocked by accusations of machiavellianism and blackmail,” Chief Executive Officer Henri Poupart-Lafarge told a hostile parliamentary hearing on Tuesday, when the theory was put to him by politicians. “Who can think, for one second, that plant chiefs, that ourselves, could imagine this evil plan.”

Alstom has faced growing political pressure since announcing plans to halt production of high-speed TGV trains at the Belfort plant, in the east of the country. The Saint-Ouen-based company, 20 percent owned by the government, said locomotive manufacturing would be transferred to Reichsoffen, 120 miles away, leaving 80 staff at the site. Following an outcry from politicians and unions, who were demonstrating against the decision on Tuesday, Poupart-Lafarge has agreed to await an alternative proposal from the government.

“You are closing a historical site to create a shock and gain orders,” Belfort Mayor Damien Meslot told the CEO.

No Unneeded Orders

Alston has “no interest” in pushing state-owned transport companies SNCF and RATP to order trains they don’t need, Poupart-Lafarge said. “We’ve been saying that there was a capacity issue.”

In response to questions about relocalization to countries with lower production costs, the CEO said that 40 percent of Alstom’s activity in France fuels exports and that contracts abroad usually demand local production. Last month, Alstom said it will build 28 high-speed trains to run along Amtrak’s corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C. The CEO said that 95 percent of that production will be in the U.S.

“Alstom intends to keep its position in France’s industrial and railway sectors,” Poupart-Lafarge said.

Poupart-Lafarge declined to comment on possible outcomes for the Belfort factory before the government unveils its proposals, expected around Oct. 4. The CEO said he didn’t know the content of the solutions envisaged by the state.

The historic site at Belfort, where the country’s first high-speed passenger trains were developed in the 1970s, is among a dozen run by the company in France and specializes in freight locomotives and TGVs.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.