THE long-term future of hundreds of North-East train factory jobs could be secured on Thursday when the winner of a £1bn contract is announced.
County Durham-based Hitachi is one of three bidders shortlisted to make engines and carriages for the new Crossrail commuter line in London.
If the work goes to the Newton Aycliffe firm it will help to create jobs and safeguard more than 700 positions at the plant.
Hitachi, which will open its £82m Aycliffe factory in 2016, faces fierce competition to supply Crossrail; Britain's biggest construction project for a generation.
Loading article content
It is up against the Derby-based factory of Canadian firm Bombardier and Spain's Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF).
Rail ministers have stressed that the Government cannot guarantee that contracts will go to bidders with large manufacturing bases in Britain due to European procurement laws, although they have voiced hopes that the Crossrail contract will be awarded to a business which will support UK jobs.
On a recent visit to County Durham, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, MP for Derbyshire Dales, hailed the return of train building to the region, when he said: "I don't want the North-East to just have an industrial heritage, I want it to have an industrial future."
Transport for London (TfL) held a board meeting today (Wednesday) to discuss the Crossrail rolling stock contract, ahead of the winning bidder being revealed when the Stock Exchange opens at 7am on Thursday.
Hitachi Rail Europe has made it clear that failure to win the deal will not hold back plans for Aycliffe to become its European manufacturing hub, as a deal to make trains for the East Coast and Great Western lines will keep the plant busy until 2020.
The Japan-based manufacturer is also bidding for work on the Continent, but a rejection by Crossrail would be a significant setback.
Phil Wilson, Sedgefield MP, said awarding the work to the County Durham firm would represent "a huge vote of confidence" in the factory which is being built in his constituency.
The Labour MP added: "It will help to create and secure manufacturing jobs in the North-East and ensure that the region becomes a centre for train building excellence.
"I also believe that it will deliver best value to the British taxpayer, as Hitachi has a proven track record for delivering these projects on time and to budget."
Among the North-East firms that have already won deals to supply Crossrail are Darlington engineer Cleveland Bridge; crane supplier Mammoet, based in Billingham, near Stockton; Seaham-based borehole drilling company Drillcorp; Gateshead's Goodall, Bates and Todd, which supplied engineering lubricants, and sewage waste removal sepecialists Conder Solutions, in Peterlee.