THE North-East is once again making trains, as the production lines have started up at Hitachi’s £82m facility, The Northern Echo can reveal.

The first pictures of work taking place on the new train carriages offers a much-needed filip to the region's manufacturing industry following the succession of job losses led by the closure of SSI iron and steel plant.

Hitachi's County Durham rail manufacturing facility is a few hundreds yards from the site where, in September 1825, Robert Stephenson's Locomotion No 1 was assembled and test runs began on what became the world's first generation of passenger engines.

The new Newton Aycliffe factory, that was opened by the Prime Minister in September, is now a hive of activity with work on the first two train carriages underway after body shells arrived in the North-East from Hitachi’s Kasado Works in Japan.

Darren Cumner, Aycliffe plant manager, explained how North-East workers were quickly getting to grips with the challenge of delivering new trains that will eventually replace rolling stock on the Great Western and East Coast lines.

“In Kasado, workers are trained for many years to ensure they build trains worthy of the Hitachi brand,” he said. “We have been sending teams from Newton Aycliffe across to Japan to learn from our Japanese colleagues and we currently have some of our colleagues from Japan over here to support us in the manufacture of the first carriages. We are starting production here with a brand new multi-skilled team. We need to learn quickly from our colleagues in Japan so we can transfer this renowned Hitachi quality to the North-East.

“We have approximately 50 people working on the first two carriages and over 150 people at the facility overall. This operational team will train the next group of team members who will be joining us at a rate of 20 people per week from February,” added Mr Cumner.

Sam Plant, who is in charge of staff recruitment, said: “We have a huge but exciting task ahead of us. This year we have received nearly 16,000 applications so far that have all had to be assessed. After initial filtering and appraisal of key skills, we have been inviting groups of people in for assessment centres. This is an opportunity for us to see how individuals work in teams and how they behave towards each other. We are constantly assessing candidates against the Hitachi values of harmony, sincerity and pioneering spirit.”

Production Manager Lee Nockels had a career in the Armed Forces before joining the team at Hitachi Rail Europe.

He said: “Every day I’m amazed by the variety of people we have recruited. The guiding principle of the recruitment process was finding people with the correct values and standards, values and standards that match the team here.

“We have people who have worked as aircraft engineers, submarine technicians and skilled mechanics. And everyone is keen to build on their existing skills as well as learning more.”

Mr Cumner added: “The key focus for us here in Newton Aycliffe is building skills. Currently we are investing heavily in getting our new workforce ready to make the next generation of rolling stock. We are also employing apprentices and graduates and plan to increase the number of these every year.

“Looking to the longer term and as founder members of the new South Durham UTC now being built on our doorstep for 14 to 17 year olds, our vision is that these young people will become the future engineers, technicians and managers at our facility in Newton Aycliffe. Given our ambitions for growth, we hope that some will continue to pursue a career within our future UK rail operation, or go on to work in Hitachi’s rail business around the globe.”

Upcoming Hitachi milestones:

February 2016 – Recruitment stepped up with about 20 people joining every week and testing begins on the first two completed carriages.

Summer 2016 – First full train completed at Newton Aycliffe rolls out of the facility for further testing.

Summer 2017 – First train enters service on the Great Western Main Line.