THE first of the new inter city express trains that will soon be made in the North-East has been unloaded at the port of Southampton, watched by guests including Transport Minister Claire Perry and Sedgefield Labour MP Phil Wilson.

The Class 800 train, specially designed and built by Hitachi for the government's InterCity Express Programme (IEP), will bring new high speed trains to the East Coast and Great Western lines.

A total of 110 IEP trains will be manufactured at Hitachi's Newton Aycliffe site, creating 730 jobs locally.

The first train, which has been made at Hitachi’s factory in Kasado, Japan, will now undergo testing to get the fleet ready for service on Great Western from 2017 and East Coast from 2018.

It was shipped from the port of Kobe on January 22, travelling to Britain via the Panama Canal on the ship Tamerlane. Its arrival comes a day after Hitachi's Aycliffe factory signed a deal to make 70 commuter trains for Scotland.

Staff from the Aycliffe plant, which starts production in the new year, spent around 3,000 hours working alongside workers in Kasado building the first train and will pass on their expertise to the UK workforce.

Travelling at a top speed of 125 mph, IEP cuts average journey times by up to 15 minutes, ministers said. In addition, a nine-carriage Hitachi train will carry 627 people - 18 per cent more than the InterCity 125 it replaces.

The new trains are capable of running at 140 mph and the government recently confirmed a study would be carried out on railway improvements needed for IEP trains on East Coast to run at this speed.

Andy Barr, chief operating officer, Hitachi Rail Europe, said: "The arrival of the first train here in the UK is a major achievement for everybody involved in building this train – our colleagues in Japan, our UK suppliers and also the team from Newton Aycliffe, who worked on this train in Japan to hone their train-building skills.

"Today marks a new departure in the Intercity Express Programme for Hitachi Rail Europe, as we enter the test phase and build up to the opening of our Rail Vehicle Manufacturing Facility in the autumn of this year."