After long delays a £4.5 billion contract to replace the Intercity 125 trains has been given the go-ahead by the government.
Under the new deal Agility Trains, a consortium led by Japanese firm Hitachi, will build 596 rail carriages at a new state-of-the-art assembly facility in Newton Aycliffe, Durham.
Approximately 730 skilled jobs will be created at the new facility where the fleet of 92 trains will be assembled. A further 200 jobs will be created during construction of the factory itself.
It is hoped the first new trains will enter service on the Greater Western main line in 2017 and on the East Coast main line by 2018.
Agility was announced as the preferred bidder for the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) in early 2009, but after a series of delays it has taken more than three years for the deal to be finalised.
Chief executive of Agility Trains, Alistair Dormer, said: “We are absolutely delighted to have achieved contract award on the IEP. It is among the biggest contracts ever closed in the UK rail industry and will mean a step change in reliability, capacity and comfort for British passengers.
“The new fleet of trains will be substantially built in the UK by our supplier Hitachi Rail Europe in its new manufacturing plant in the Northeast of England, bringing additional socio-economic benefits to Britain.” Hitachi also confirmed plans to locate its European rail research and development base at the new site, which it said would enhance the factory's ability to win future rail contracts.
While the government and passenger focus groups welcomed both the investment and the jobs boost, unions said the deal will do little to reinvigorate UK manufacturing. General secretary of the RMT union, Bob Crow, said: “While any new jobs are welcome, this whole botched and delayed intercity replacement programme could have generated thousands of skilled manufacturing jobs if the trains had been built from scratch in the UK rather than just assembled in kit form shipped from Japan.”
But transport secretary Justine Greening said: “A new train factory is fantastic news for Britain and will be welcomed by everyone who wants to see a thriving UK manufacturing sector.
“The decision to build almost 600 new intercity train carriages is great for rail passengers who will experience faster and more comfortable journeys when travelling across Britain on the East Coast and Great Western main lines.
“There can also be fewer stronger signs that the UK is the best place in which to invest, and from which to develop new markets, than Hitachi's decision to base its European manufacturing base right here in Britain.”
The new trains will offer a number of benefits for rail passengers, including more seats and faster and more comfortable journeys. Chief executive of rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus, Anthony Smith, said: “Passengers will welcome the news that the arrival of these new trains has moved a step closer.
“The new trains, coupled with last week's news about electrification, should not only mean new, faster trains, but also more seating. This will help to match passengers' priorities for improvement as shown by our research.”
As well as building the new facility, Hitachi will construct maintenance depots in Bristol, Swansea, west London and Doncaster, and will upgrade existing maintenance depots throughout Britain.
Construction at the Newton Aycliffe site is expected to begin in 2013, with the plant becoming fully operational by 2015.
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