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Romag, near Consett, County Durham, looks to future after Hitachi Rail Europe contract
A SPECIALIST glass maker based in what used to be coal country is reviving the region's manufacturing heritage after securing a 27-year deal with Hitachi.
Romag, in Leadgate, near Consett, County Durham, says it is proof the region can compete with the world after beating European and Asian rivals to supply windows for Hitachi Rail Europe.
Hitachi will build more than 860 carriages at its new £82m factory in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, from 2016 for the Government's Intercity Express Programme, creating 730 North-East jobs and revamping the UK's 40-year-old high-speed train fleet.
The contract runs for five years but Romag says the deal could extend to at least 27 years as it carries out maintenance and replacement of damaged windows.
Bosses say the deal could also lead to new jobs and apprenticeships and provide more train building contracts.
The firm, founded 70 years ago, will make glass for Hitachi's class 800 and 801 models, which will replace the Intercity fleet and run on the East Coast Main Line, which connects the North-East to Scotland and London, in 2018, and the Great Western Main Line, between Bristol and south Wales a year earlier.
The deal means Romag is the fourth North-East firm out of 21 UK companies chosen to supply parts after Gateshead-based Petards was handed a deal to make passenger counter systems and driver safety switches, and Nomad Digital, in Newcastle, picked to make manufacture on board servers.
Phil Murray, Romag managing director, said the company, which employs about 100 workers, was ready to create a new manufacturing legacy in the spirit of the area's coal mining history.
He said: “We saw the opportunity with Hitachi about 18 months ago and have been working very closely to understand what they needed.
“We understand the rail industry and what it requires, and this contract means we are supporting 100 valuable jobs in this area, which could lead to increased employment in the future.
“The rail industry is something we have really worked hard to get into and we have attacked the market against some fierce competition from companies in Europe and Asia, so to win the contract is testament to our skilled and dedicated workforce.
“This area was known for its coal mines, but this deal now shows that North-East can more than compete in other markets too and that is the message we are sending out.”
Mr Murray said the contract would be a catalyst for Romag's future as it continues to strengthen its reputation after avoiding administration in 2011.
Its shares were briefly suspended from trading when it was revealed a former chairman had made a £3.97m payment to one of the firm's divisions without informing the board.
However, Wearside housing developer Gentoo stepped in to save the firm, which also assembles solar photovoltaic panels and makes bullet-proof and blast-resistant glass.
He said: “We have dedicated considerable resources to developing bespoke builds for the rail industry, and are well placed to deliver contracts to both Hitachi and other train builders.”
Jamie Foster, Hitachi Rail Europe's procurement director, said the firm was impressed with Romag.
He said: “We have always been very clear that only companies that can meet our high quality standards will be selected and Romag have consistently demonstrated their commitment to that.”
Last month, Hitachi revealed the interior of its North-East trains, which will feature wood veneers on the ends of carriages and across tables and have been designed by DCA Design International, based in Warwick.
An archaeological team is also continuing to work on the Hitachi factory site ahead of the start of construction, but despite unearthing evidence of Iron Age dwellings, developers say they are confident building work will not be delayed.
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