HITACHI Rail Europe has signed a contract with GB Railfreight who will provide test drivers for its North-East built trains.

Hitachi is building more than 860 carriages at its £82m factory in Newton Aycliffe from 2016 for the Government's Intercity Express Programme (IEP), creating 730 North-East jobs and revamping the UK's 40-year-old high-speed train fleet.

As part of the contract GB Railfreight will provide locomotives for transit movements and train crew throughout the test programme of the new Class 800 and Class 801 trains that wil go into service on the Great Western Main Line from 2017.

Keith Jordan, the managing director, Hitachi Rail Europe said: “It is highly important to have the right partner to support our testing programme. GB Railfreight have shown that they align well with the Intercity Express Programme requirements and locations, offering a highly proactive response to the scenarios we need to test.”

John Smith, the managing director of GB Railfreight, said: “The Class 800/801 units for the IEP programme represent a major step forward in the continued modernisation of the UK railway system. GB Railfreight look forward to working with Hitachi to ensure that these trains are tested and commissioned so that they are ready to deliver better services for UK rail passengers.”

GB Railfreight will support Hitachi Rail Europe through the compatibility process in preparation for the start of testing in March 2015.