Rail scheme boost for Hitatchi plan could be approved today

First published in Back On Track The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Parliamentary Correspondent

A HUGE rail scheme long seen as key to Hitachi's £7.5bn plans to bring train building back to the North-East is expected to get the go-ahead today.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond will make a Commons statement to announce whether he is pressing ahead with electrification of the Great Western line from London to South Wales.

The fact that the announcement will come on March 1 - St David's Day - has triggered confident predictions that the £1.1bn upgrade will go ahead, to Cardiff at least.

In the past, ministers have described the electrification decision as inextricably linked with the question of how to replace Britain's 35-year-old fleet of InterCity 125 trains.

Hitachi's proposal for the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) - to build 'hybrid' electric/diesel trains - would create 800 posts at a landmark new factory in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, with a further 8,000 jobs in the supply chain.

But ministers are also considering a rival proposal to "couple" electric trains with diesel locomotive, which - as The Northern Echo revealed - are unlikely to create any British jobs.

Last night, there were suggestions that Mr Hammond might say yes to electrification today, while stating no decision has been taken on which trains will run on the new London-Cardiff track.

Such a move would bring further frustration for Agility Trains, the consortium led by Hitachi, which was named as the 'preferred bidder' for the IEP scheme as long ago as February 2009.

Some Westminster insiders believe the IEP decision could be held back for Budget Day, on March 23 - when Chancellor George Osborne is under growing pressure to unveil "growth" measures.

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