Hitachi Rail has set itself a goal of accelerating the globalisation of its rail systems business and strengthen ties with worldwide networks, customers and partnership.

The company, which supplies metro, commuter and other trains such as the Shinkansen (bullet train) for Japanese and international markets, scored big in the UK when it secured market entry with a high-speed rail contract in 2005. Hitachi Rail Europe has been on a roll in the country ever since.

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Between 2005 and 2007, it built its flagship depot, the Ashford Maintenance Depot, outside London. In May 2007, the company unveiled a demonstration train while bidding for the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) to provide replacement trains and additional trains for UK’s Great Western Main Line (GWML) and the East Coast Main Line (ECML). The company was awarded the bid by the UK Department for Transport in 2012, and entered as the main stakeholder in consortium Agility Trains. In March 2015, it also signed a contract to provide new rolling stock to transport company Abellio for the Edinburgh-Glasgow ScotRail franchise, operational from 2017.

Heading north

Hitachi Rail's biggest UK success came in September with the opening of an £82m ($124.8m) manufacturing facility at Merchant Park in Newton Aycliffe in County Durham in the north-east of England. The factory is expected to employ about 700 people and will be used to manufacture new inter city passenger trains for the IEP.

“The IEP will see Hitachi deliver 122 trains to replace the fleet of InterCity 125 and 225 trains that operate on the GWML and ECML,” says Hitachi Rail Europe managing director Karen Boswell. The trains will be introduced on the GWML in 2017 and the ECML in 2018.

Under the IEP, the Department for Transport signed a £5.7bn contract with Agility Trains under which Agility will design, build, finance and maintain the rolling stock and maintenance facilities required to deliver the IEP over 27-and-a-half years.

“For construction of the facility, more than 30 companies based within a 80-kilometre radius of Merchant Park [a 42-hectare greenfield site], shared 95% of the project spend,” says Ms Boswell. “For construction of the IEP trains, several local suppliers will be used, including windows from Durham-based Romag, onboard servers from Nomad Digital, located in Newcastle, and passenger-counting systems from Gateshead-based Petard.

“Hitachi will build the majority of these trains at the Newton Aycliffe facility and will maintain them for 27-and-a-half years at a network of new and refurbished depots and facilities across the country.”

Easy access

Hitachi Rail Europe began looking at the site in Newton Aycliffe in 2009. The company chose it because of overwhelming support from the County Durham authorities and the fact it best fits the company’s requirements. “It has good access by road, rail and ship and a highly skilled workforce in the vicinity,” Ms Boswell says. It is also close to key ports and highways, allowing for materials to be delivered to the site.

To develop the local workforce, Hitachi Rail Europe, the University of Sunderland and automotive manufacturer Gestamp Tallent have joined with the UK Department for Education to establish a University Technical College (UTC) in south Durham.

“This will be the first UTC established in the north-east and will be tasked with providing technical and vocational STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics]-focused education to students interested in working in the engineering and advanced manufacturing sector,” says Ms Boswell.

The UTC is due to open in 2016 and will have an estimated intake of 120 pupils per year. When in full operation, the UTC will be able to accommodate between 550 and 600 students.