Hopes are high that the north east could clinch a £7.5 billion contract to build enormous state-of-the-art high-speed trains. The trains will be needed for the £56 billion HS2 high-speed rail project, which aims to improve connections between Birmingham, London, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester.
The government has hinted that it will try to make sure the new trains are manufactured in Britain, with transport secretary Chris Grayling saying, “We will not simply bring trains in on a ship.”
If this were to be true, it would be good news for the north east as the region has a cutting-edge train-manufacturing plant at Newton Aycliffe. Owned by the Japanese corporation Hitachi, the plant is already producing the Intercity Express Programme trains which are set to replace the ageing 125 fleet on the East Coast Main Line from 2018.
The HS2 trains would each be 200 metres long, but there would also be the option of hitching two trains together, creating a vehicle with a length of 400 metres and up to 1,100 seats.
— HSR Industry Leaders (@RailLeaders) November 9, 2016
HS2 aims to slash journey times between Britain’s major cities. And the government recently confirmed the trains would also run to the north east, using the part of the East Coast Line between Newcastle and York.
With HS2, the journey time from Newcastle to London would be 2 hours 17 minutes as opposed to the current time of 2 hours 49 minutes. A journey from Durham to Birmingham would take 1 hour 50 minutes in contrast to the 2 hours 57 minutes it currently takes.
Newton Aycliffe’s MP Phil Wilson said, “Hitachi Rail Europe in my constituency is well- placed to manufacture the rolling stock for HS2.”
“It has a long track record of building high-speed trains, such as the bullet trains in 1960s’ Tokyo.”
“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 commented, “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.”
“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.”
Mr Grayling also praised the Hitachi factory’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 said the transport secretary’s comments were promising and added,
“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 supports the government’s HS2 plans, but feels that when HS2 is up-and-running it should be kept in public control rather than being contracted out to private firms.
The HS2 project is expected to have linked London and Birmingham by 2026 and to be fully completed by 2033.
HS2 has not, however, been welcomed by everybody, with objections to the scheme ranging from its impact on wildlife and ancient woodlands to its cost.