A NORTH-EAST train builder is advancing north of the border after confirming a deal to supply Scottish rolling stock.

Hitachi Rail Europe has signed a contract to make 70 engines for operator Abellio.

The 100mph next generation commuter trains will be built at the Japanese firm’s £82m factory, in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, which is due to open later this year and will support 730 skilled jobs.

The Northern Echo reported last year how Hitachi had been named preferred bidder for the work, with bosses saying the 70 trains would be joined by 234 carriages.

They have now revealed the rolling stock will be made up of 46 three-car and 24 four-car trains, known as AT200s, which will run from late 2017 on electrified lines between Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as routes covering Stirling, Alloa and Dunblane.

An initial seven engines will be made at Hitachi’s factory in Kasado, Japan, with the remaining 63 built at Aycliffe.

The Scottish contract further strengthens Hitachi’s order book, which already includes an agreement to provide Class 800 and 801 trains for the Government’s Intercity Express Programme (IEP) to modernise the UK’s ageing 40-year-old high-speed fleet.

Jon Veitch, Hitachi Rail Europe’s Scotland general manager, said the Abellio agreement would deliver significant benefits for the company’s North-East base.

He said: “With the majority of manufacturing taking place in Aycliffe, this is another sign of our confidence in UK manufacturing and, in line with the delivery of our Class 800 IEP trains, will boost jobs and growth in Scotland and the North-East.

“This is also the first contract for our AT200 train and forms the start of a long-term partnership to boost passenger services in Scotland.

“We will work closely with the operator to ensure services are kept to a very high standard.”

The trains will form a key part of Transport Scotland’s Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP), with the contract financed by Caledonian Rail Leasing.

Jeff Hoogesteger, Abellio chief executive, added: “This is an important deal for passengers and for Scotland.

“The arrival of Hitachi’s trains will ensure the full benefits of EGIP are realised for passengers; delivering faster journey times, greater capacity and higher service quality.”

Speaking to The Northern Echo at last year’s preferred bidder announcement, Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson said the work was proof the industry has real confidence in the train builder.

He said: “This just goes to prove the firm is more than just the IEP.

“I understand commuter trains like these are going to be the bread and butter of train manufacturing going forward, so for Hitachi to get a foothold in that market is great.”

Hitachi’s Scottish trains will be used by Abellio on its ScotRail franchise, which it will take over from FirstGroup on April 1.

The firm’s IEP rolling stock will be used on Great Western Main Line services, running via Bristol to south Wales, from 2017, and on the East Coast Main Line from 2018 onwards.

Ahead of that, bosses will today (Thursday, March 12) welcome a Class 800 model into Southampton, which has been shipped from Japan.

It will be used to carry out running tests and deliver onboard staff training.

In the meantime the firm reaffirmed its commitment to creating a skilled workforce by announcing it will recruit five engineering apprentices this autumn in addition to the four it has now on its books. Across the business, there will be apprenticeships available in other departments, Hitachi said.

Julia Potts, HR manager at Hitachi Rail Europe, said: “We are constantly on the look-out for the engineers of tomorrow and are delighted to actively encourage those young people who may not have considered engineering as an option the chance to explore whether this is the correct path for them.”