A RAIL operator’s franchise woes will have no bearing on a trainbuilder’s rolling stock supply deal, company bosses have told The Northern Echo.

Hitachi Rail Europe is just weeks away from starting work in earnest on trains destined for the East Coast Mainline at its £82m County Durham factory.

However, operator Stagecoach will only oversee the franchise for “a small number of months” after the Government said it “got its numbers wrong”.

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But Hitachi has told the Echo its manufacturing timetable remains on schedule, with its stock, known as Azuma, due to enter service from December onwards.

The Echo can also reveal Hitachi has tested a fully-electric model of its East Coast stock between Darlington and Doncaster, building on tests of bi-mode diesel and electric power stock last year.

A source told the Echo that manufacturing will continue as normal, with Hitachi’s contract signed as part of the Government’s InterCity Express Programme, rather than with a specific operator.

He added initial production is still taking place in Hitachi’s Japanese heartland, with work expected to ramp up at Aycliffe later this year.

Hitachi, which The Northern Echo previously revealed now employs more than 1,000 workers at its Aycliffe base, says its 65-strong Azuma fleet will provide thousands of extra seats and increase capacity into London King’s Cross by nearly 30 per cent at peak times.

Stagecoach oversees East Coast services under the Inter City Railways banner after taking on the route alongside Virgin from the publicly-run Directly Operated Railways.

However, the endeavour’s future appears short-lived after Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the House of Commons that Stagecoach would only continue running the London to Edinburgh line for “a small number of months”.

Mr Grayling confirmed he is considering directly operating the East Coast Mainline, saying the option of the Department for Transport operating the service was “very much on the table” and will be considered against Stagecoach continuing to operate services on a “short-term, notfor- profit basis”.

He said the franchise had breached a “key financial covenant” but stressed the business would continue to operate “as usual with no impact on services or staff on the East Coast”.

Mr Grayling added he has “not yet made a decision on the successor operator to run the East Coast railway”, stressing there “is no question of anyone receiving a bailout”.

Alongside its Azuma work, Hitachi is supplying trains for the Great Western Mainline and 100mph commuter models destined for Scotland, while it also has a deal to supply the FirstGroup TransPennine Express franchise, which links the North-East with Manchester and Scotland, with 19 five-car trains.