THE project that will bring train building back to the cradle of the railways is about to shift up a gear with a recruitment drive and archaeology work planned, The Northern Echo can reveal.

The first detailed plans for Hitachi's new train assembly plant and on-site rail system in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham have also been unveiled as the scale of the landmark project starts to emerge.

The Northern Echo: Hitachi

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An image released by the company which shows how the train will look

Later this month, a team of archaeologists from the North-East will be appointed to start digging on former farm land in preparation for construction of the factory starting at the end of this year.

In the months ahead about six senior managers will join the project as well as a 12-strong team of specialists from Japan.

Last July, Hitachi confirmed it would construct a factory in Aycliffe after it won a £4.5bn order from the Department for Transport to build the next generation of high-speed intercity trains. The deal will see up to 730 workers employed at the Amazon Park plant, building an initial 596 carriages for the Intercity Express Programme (IEP). Hitachi is also bidding for contracts across Europe to fill its order book and it is among the manufacturers vying to supply the £14.8bn Crossrail project, a 73-mile rail route to link west and east London.

Since Hitachi signed the IEP contract with the Government there have been few visible signs of progress, but behind the scenes the Japanese manufacturer and Newcastle-based developers Merchant Place Developments (MPD), which owns the Amazon Park site and adjacent land, have been working hard to put the building blocks in place for the project.

"After all of the celebration last year this is the reality. Everything is going to plan," said Geoff Hunton, a director of MPD.

The contractors that will build the plant and rail track are due on site in November ahead of a 21 month construction phase. Mr Hunton revealed that about 30 companies are bidding for the work and he plans to narrow the field down to a shortlist before inviting detailed tenders in the summer.

He explained: "One of the key criteria will be their commitment to apprenticeships. They must be the kind of firm that is investing in young people and creating new apprentices.

"These are major decisions so it is only right that we take time and are as thorough as possible. We have said all along that we hope to employ as many local workers as possible and that remains the case. The engineers, architects and archaeologists we're working with are all local firms."

TGA Consulting Engineers of Durham and Ryder Architecture of Newcastle drew up the plans that show for the first the layout of the site which will include a test track for the newly built rolling stock. Darren Cumner, Hitachi's Aycliffe plant manager confirmed that he is about to start putting together his senior team.

A human resources manager is expected to be the first appointment to assist with the recruitment of other departmental heads, including finance and quality assurance chiefs later in the year.

"There has been an awful lot of progress made already but things are about to get even busier," said Mr Cumner.