A contract to build massive, cutting-edge high-speed trains could be on its way to the north east. The trains would be needed for the government’s HS2 project – a high-speed rail link that will improve the connections between major cities such as London, Leeds and Manchester.
The government has implied that it will try to make sure the trains are built in Britain. Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, said, “We will not simply bring trains in on a ship with no benefit for engineering skills or apprenticeships in this country. I want a genuine process that leaves behind a skills footprint.”
If the trains really are to be manufactured in the UK, it would be great news for the north east. The region has a high-tech train factory in Newton Aycliffe, owned by the Japanese company Hitachi.
The factory is already making Intercity Express Programme trains. These trains will start replacing existing stock on the Great Western Main Line at the end of 2017 and on the East Coast Main Line from 2018.
The HS2 trains will be 200 metres long. There will even be the possibility of connecting two trains to produce a 400-metre-long train with 1,100 seats.
— HSR Industry Leaders (@RailLeaders) November 8, 2016
The HS2 project will cut journey times significantly between cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield. And the government has now confirmed that HS2 trains will also run along the East Coast Line to Darlington, Durham and Newcastle.
With HS2, a trip from Newcastle to London would take 2 hours 17 minutes rather than the 2 hours 49 minutes it does currently. A journey from Durham to Birmingham would last 1 hour 50 minutes instead of the 2 hours 57 minutes it now takes.
Labour MP for Sedgefield Phil Wilson, whose constituency includes Newton Aycliffe, said, “Hitachi Rail Europe is well-placed to manufacture the rolling stock for HS2.”
“Newton Aycliffe is the place to build them. It is a state-of-the-art factory.”
“They’ve got more land they could expand on. And they have a brilliant track record of building high speed trains.”
Chris Grayling, who has promised to visit the Hitachi Factory in December, said, “I obviously cannot prejudge the outcome of the tender process – it will take place towards the end of this decade – but I am clear that the company that builds the trains for HS2 must leave a skills footprint in this country.”
Mr Grayling sounded upbeat about the Hitachi plant’s current performance, saying, “I look forward to seeing the first trains from that plant operating on our network. The team at Hitachi is doing a great job for us.”
Phil Wilson added,
“If the transport secretary wants to ensure there is a skills footprint in the UK then it means the trains need to be built here, and in my view it should be in the north east.”
“It would be a fantastic boost for the north east because this is a massive contract. It would also be a massive boost for skills.”
Labour is backing the HS2 project, but would like the finished network to be operated by the government rather than private companies.
The HS2 scheme is expected to have linked London and Birmingham by 2026 and to have reached Crewe by 2027. It is hoped the project will be totally finished by 2033.
HS2 is not, however, universally popular. There have been protests over issues such as its effect on rural communities along the route, its impact on wildlife and age-old woodlands, and its phenomenal £56 billion price tag.