MANUFACTURING of five electric East Coast Trains began earlier today, signalling the start of a new phase of train building at a County Durham factory.

The construction of the new intercity trains for East Coast Trains Limited incorporates a more extensive manufacturing programme than previous fleets.

The increased scope will see Hitachi Rail's Newton Aycliffe workforce create a new state-of-art fleet from empty aluminium shells.

Despite the impact of Covid-19, Hitachi Rail says it has continued to work diligently and safely in preparing the North-East factory and is now ready to start manufacturing the East Coast Trains order.

Ross Nagle, chief operating officer at Hitachi Rail said: "Building these East Coast Trains signifies a new and exciting chapter for Hitachi Rail's UK factory.

"It is an important step as we increase our manufacturing capabilities and upskill our workforce at Newton Aycliffe, including investing £8.5m in new welding and painting facilities.

"The increased skills of our workforce makes us well placed to deliver a number of highly significant orders over the next 12 months, and consolidate our place as a strategic North-East manufacturing hub."

The five fully electric East Coast Trains – known in the rail industry as Class 803s – will begin carrying passengers between Edinburgh and London from autumn 2021, in the hopes of offering passengers a high quality, cost effective and more sustainable alternative to flying between two of the UK's capital cities.

They will have the first service of the day from London to Edinburgh, making it an attractive alternative to flying.

The trains will also travel entirely in electric mode, resulting in zero-emission intercity travel.

These trains are part of the award-winning Class 800 series, which are believed to be some of the UK's most reliable new fleets.

Hitachi Rail is set to build more intercity train orders this year, which will benefit from their £8.5m investment in welding and painting at the factory.

Helen Wylde, managing director at East Coast Trains said: "It's great to see our new 100 per cent electric trains being assembled by the skilled team at Newton Aycliffe.

"We are delighted that these trains will be at the cutting-edge of low-emission rail transport, underlining the benefits of using our rail service for travel between the two capital cities."

Ross Shepherd, chief technical officer, at Beacon Rail Leasing Limited added: "We are delighted to see the start of the manufacture of our all-electric Class 803 fleet in the UK. It is a sign of the strong teamwork and commitment to safety across the project that this has been achieved in these extraordinary times.

The Class 803 demonstrates Beacon's commitment to delivering environmentally friendly rail travel across Europe."