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Hitachi's UK plant looks to the world market

08 May 2017

UK: Hitachi Rail Europe is looking to develop new markets for trainsets produced at its £82m rolling stock plant at Newton Aycliffe in northeast England, according to Head of Business Development Jim Brewin.

Speaking to Railway Gazette on April 25, Brewin said Newton Aycliffe’s order books are full through to the end of 2019 thanks to the Department for Transport’s Intercity Express Programme and the production of 70 Class 385 electric multiple-units for ScotRail, and Hitachi is now discussing potential future orders from the UK, mainland Europe and beyond.

A particular focus is HS2, where Newton Aycliffe is at the centre of Hitachi's planned bid to supply the future fleet of high speed trainsets. HS2 Ltd’s requirement for a design which meets the restricted loading gauge of the UK's conventional lines means that it will not be possible to adapt an existing train design from elsewhere. Hitachi plans to incorporate technology from Shinkansen projects in its Japanese home market and also from high speed trains built by Hitachi Rail Italy for the European market where operating and regulatory conditions are more similar to the UK.

This European high speed train experience was an important factor in Hitachi’s 2014 decision to acquire the AnsaldoBreda rolling stock business and integrate it into its global network, said Brewin. The business had 'great engineers', while Hitachi has been able to bring the project management skills needed to solve production problems which had plagued some of the Italian company’s previous projects.

Hitachi is also keen enter the urban transport sector. A bid to supply new small-profile trains to London Underground under the New Tube for London programme is being developed in partnership with Bombardier Transportation. Brewin said the joint venture has a 'good split' of skills, combining Bombardier’s extensive experience of supplying Transport for London with Hitachi’s electrical engineering expertise; he highlighted the significant improvement in mean distance between failures of the Networker EMUs which it retrofitted with new traction equipment.

The ongoing expansion of the Newton Aycliffe plant requires large numbers of skilled workers. There are now around 900 staff at the site, and the opening of IEP maintenance facilities elsewhere in the UK will bring Hitachi Rail Europe’s footprint to 2 000 employees at 14 sites by 2019.

Brewin said Hitachi has been impressed by the response to its recruitment campaigns. One event attracted 1000 people rather than 200 expected, ranging from a headteacher seeking a new career to a local entrepreneur offering to run a catering stand at the factory. Hitachi has placed a strong emphasis on training, with staff traveling to Japan and building a strong relationship with the Italian business. This has allowed the amount of work undertaken at Newton Aycliffe to be ramped up, as staff are trained to take on new tasks. 

Hitachi is also looking much further ahead, working with primary schools to raise children’s understanding of engineering and manufacturing. A project with the Royal College of Art encouraged students to produce highly conceptual designs for vehicles including high speed trains and freight-carrying metro cars, and Hitachi then helped this next generation of designers to understand the practical limitations on manufacturing the more exotic concepts which resulted.

While the impact of the UK's referendum vote in favour of leaving the EU remains 'unclear', Brewin said the Italian business ensures Hitachi has a foot in the EU. He pointed out that that the company has made a major capital and skills investment in Newton Aycliffe, and the IEP contract includes 27½  years of maintenance 'which means we are in the UK for the long term'.