A TRAINBUILDER is just weeks away from another operational milestone, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Rolling stock made at Hitachi Rail Europe’s North-East plant will enter service on Scottish commuter lines in the coming weeks.

And the Echo can also reveal the business has now made 30 trains for the Government’s Intercity Express Programme (IEP) at its factory in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, with 24 in service on the Great Western Mainline.

The Echo understands Hitachi’s 100mph Scottish stock, known as Class 385s, will begin operating on lines between Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as routes covering Stirling, Alloa and Dunblane, in the next couple of months.

Meanwhile, its Great Western stock has now carried passengers nearly 700,000 miles since the first models entered service back in October.

The updates represent solid progress for Hitachi, which was last year shortlisted to make 225mph rolling stock for the £2.75bn HS2 development.

The Government says the high-speed project will improve journey times between the north and London, with contracts to build and maintain at least 54 trains expected to be awarded in 2019.

Hitachi has also ramped up testing of stock, known as Azuma, for the East Coast Mainline, which is anticipated to enter service later this year.

The work is part of the business’ IEP deal, with production bolstering lines at its £82m Aycliffe plant.

A model, built in the company’s Japanese homeland, underwent testing between Edinburgh and Inverness last week, with bosses praising its performance.

Andy Rogers, Hitachi’s IEP director, said: “This was an important milestone for the project and it means the start of service is a step closer for people in Scotland.

“Later this year, trains will make it easier and more pleasant for passengers to travel around the country, boosting leisure journeys, connectivity and local economies.”

Last month, officials at Hitachi, which the Echo previously revealed now employs more than 1,000 workers at its Aycliffe base, played down fears that operator Stagecoach’s woes could have a bearing on its East Coast supply deal.

Stagecoach will only oversee the franchise for “a small number of months” after the Government said it “got its numbers wrong”.

However, Hitachi told the Echo its manufacturing timetable remains on schedule, with its stock due to enter service from December onwards.

A source said manufacturing will continue as normal, with Hitachi’s contract signed as part of the Government’s IEP project, rather than with a specific operator.

Hitachi says its 65-strong Azuma fleet will provide thousands of extra seats and increase capacity into London King’s Cross by nearly 30 per cent at peak times.

Stagecoach oversees the Virgin Trains East Coast service under the Inter City Railways banner.

But the endeavour’s future appears short-lived after Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the House of Commons that Stagecoach would only continue running the London to Edinburgh line for “a small number of months”.