AS Hitachi and Shepherd Construction mark the latest phase in the return of North-East train building, Business Editor, Andy Richardson heard from bosses about their bold ambition to make Newton Aycliffe a centre for European rail manufacture.
“AFTER all of the talk and planning this makes it real,” said Keith Jordan, the managing director of Hitachi Rail Europe yesterday, as he pointed towards the steel framework of the Japanese firm’s North-East train plant.
Finley Structures, based a few hundred yards away, has so far installed about one third of the £82m factory’s steel skeleton, which main contractor Shepherd Construction will have completed next summer.
York-based Northern Cladding has begun to install the walls of the factory that will start to produce high speed trains for the Great Western and East Coast lines in 18 months.
The shells of the trains are being constructed by Hitachi in Japan before being shipped to the North-East, prompting cynics to label the Aycliffe plant an “assembly line”rather than a fully-fledged train-building plant.
However, Mr Jordan revealed that Hitachi has big plans for its North-East site. The Japanese firm is in talks about taking land adjacent to the factory where it could set up a sister facility to make train body shells. It could also house a design centre, Mr Jordan said, while would enable Hitachi Aycliffe to offer an end-to-end service.
The move would also create more jobs, in addition to the 730 the factory will support, and boost Aycliffe’s chances of winning train building contracts across Europe.
Hitachi is bidding to make trains for ScotRail, but its longer-term ambition is to supply the superfast HS2 project.
“We think trains that will transform the lives of people in Britain should be made in Britain. Why not?” said Mr Jordan.
Hitachi Rail Europe considered 42 sites across Europe before deciding to make Aycliffe the centre for it train building operations.
“We knew that this was the perfect site, so it is wonderful to see it taking shape today,” added Mr Jordan, who said Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson had been “instrumental” in Hitachi’s decision to invest in the region.
Mr Wilson said: “It is great to see an iconic factory being built here in Aycliffe that will be one of the leading manufacturing sites in Europe.”
Earlier this month, Shepherd, announced that it will have up to 400 workers on the site when the factory build reaches its peak, an increase on original estimates. The 43,000 square metre factory area is equivalent to more than six football pitches and over 2,000 tonnes of steel is expected to be used on the build.
Andrew Constantine, regional managing director of Shepherd Construction, said: “This development has provided a welcome boost to the region’s economy, harnessing expertise from across the North-East and providing hundreds of local jobs throughout the supply chain.
“We are delivering this project from our Darlington office, and we are sticking to the promise we made to Hitachi that we would source as many suppliers as possible within a 50 mile radius.”