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The new fleet of IEP trains to be built at Newton Aycliffe in County Durham will provide better value for money than an equivalent Pendolino fleet, rail analysts believe.

Agility Trains, a consortium made up of Hitachi and John Laing, has signed a £4.6 billion contract with the government for the provision of 596 new IEP carriages to replace the ageing fleet of HSTs. The trains will be assembled and maintained at a purpose built plant in County Durham.

Controversially the first IEP train will not enter service until 2017. Pendolinos could be brought into operation within two years and, the argument runs, would have been a cheaper and quicker option. However the IEP train is 26 metres long, 3m longer than existing conventional Intercity trains.

Despite being longer IEPs are cost comparable to Pendolinos. A nine-car IEP set, whether bi-mode or electric, will have approximately 188 more seats than a nine-car Pendolino. Analysts at the DfT argue that an electric IEP carriage costs £2,431,389, compared to an estimated £2.7 million for the Pendolino equivalent, and a bi-mode IEP costs £2,829,187.

A DfT source said, ‘An 11-car Pendolino only holds as many people as a nine-car IEP, so you need fewer IEPs to transport the same amount of people – and you have room for further expansion with a nine-car IEP – it is only 234m in length, not 254m.’

The IEP contract is expected to create over 730 jobs. The new fleet will replace the Intercity 125 high speed trains currently in use on the Great Western and East Coast routes. The East Coast part of the contract will be financed next year.

The construction of a mixed fleet of both electric and bi-mode trains, the first time in recent history that bi-mode rolling stock has been earmarked for the UK rail market, means that services will be able to continue along non-electrified routes without the need to attach a diesel locomotive. This decision not to introduce a fleet of all electric trains is estimated to save approximately £200 million.

The first IEPs should enter service on the Great Western Main Line in 2017 and the East Coast Main Line in 2018. The new fleets will be maintained in new and upgraded maintenance facilities at Swansea, Bristol, west London and Doncaster.

Welcoming Hitachi, transport secretary Justine Greening said, ‘Hitachi is the latest major international company to invest on this scale in Britain and I look forward to this new factory in County Durham following in the footsteps of Nissan’s successful car plant in Sunderland. There can 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.’

Ironically the first locomotive to arrive in Japan was built in Britain. In 1868 Thomas Glover brought steam locomotive Iron Duke to Japan, where it worked along an eight mile stretch of track in Nagasaki. It took until 2007 for the first Japanese built trains, the class 395s, to arrive in the UK.


  1. Hitachi are hoping to win orders for the factory from continental Europe. However without a continental gauge line from Newton Aycliffe to HS1, the resulting vehicles will have to travel by road. This may make any bids for these orders uneconomic.

  2. This is a fundamentally wrong decision. These trains will replace mark 3 stock known to have a residual life of 20 to 30 years, as well as mark 4 stock which is only 20 years old. Existing stock currently running in HST sets could be converted for haulage by new electric or diesel locomotives. New trailer cars with a similar specification to mark 3 stock, seating around 76 with a decent amount of luggage space and legroom, should cost not more than a million pounds apiece.

    Standard locomotives such as the TRAXX are available for under £3 million.

    26 metres is too long. The trains will be restricted to routes which have been cleared for this length, at considerable expense.

    If Hitachi was going to build continental gauge trains it would need to set up a differnt production line. The chances are that the factory will be reduced to a maintenance facility when the order has been completed.


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