A TRAINBUILDER has ramped up testing on rolling stock destined to be made in the North-East.

Hitachi Rail Europe trialled one of its Azuma trains during an inaugural trip to Scotland.

The stock, due to run on the East Coast main line next year, will be made at the firm’s £82m factory in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, and will complement existing production of trains for the Great Western route under the Government’s InterCity Express Programme (IEP).

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Initial work on Azuma shells has been overseen in the company’s Japanese heartland, with bosses previously confirming the structures would arrive at Aycliffe from this summer onwards, whereupon manufacturing will start in earnest.

Hitachi says its 65-strong Azuma fleet will provide operator Virgin with thousands of extra seats and increase capacity into London King’s Cross by nearly 30 per cent at peak times.

The model tested was a bimode train capable of travelling on electric and diesel power, and David Horne, Virgin Trains’ managing director on the East Coast route, said it was a landmark occasion.

He said: “Having the train visit Scotland for the first time as part of testing is a really important moment and reminds us of the excitement it will bring to train travel when it is introduced into service.

“The Azuma will deliver a step-change in services between Scotland and England, taking regular journeys down to just four hours.”

Hitachi, which The Northern Echo previously revealed now employs more than 1,000 workers at its Aycliffe base, has long said its pedigree in making high-speed, reliable stock for Japanese lines will stand it in good stead for its East Coast.

Speaking after the test, managing director Karen Boswell, reiterated that bullish outlook.

She added: “Passengers and enthusiasts will be seeing more of the Azuma trains in the coming months as part of our rigorous test programme.

“Our UK-built fleet harnesses world-famous Japanese bullet train technology, giving passengers on the East Coast the very best in quality and reliability.”

Alongside its Azuma and Great Western projects, Hitachi is also producing 100mph models destined for Scotland and has a deal in place to supply the FirstGroup TransPennine Express franchise, which links the North-East with Manchester and Scotland, with 19 five-car trains.

However, speaking to the Echo earlier this year, Alistair Dormer, global chief executive of Hitachi Rail’s systems business, said the company was tendering for further agreements focused on rolling stock for the West Midlands and the South-East.

If successful, those deals could come to Aycliffe, with Hitachi officials confirming the plant will be strongly considered in future production schedules.

Reiterating previously-announced intentions to secure HS2 and London underground work, the latter of which alongside Bombardier, Mr Dormer added the Aycliffe factory is now building around a train a week.

He said: “There is still a lot of opportunity out there and we are bidding at the moment on one deal for trains in the West Midlands.

“We will also be looking this year for the South-East franchise.

"We cannot win everything but there a good pipeline for us.

“The process for pre-qualification for HS2 has started and we are also bidding for the Tube.

“Aycliffe is busy and we are building one train a week for IEP and have about five on the test track.”