WORK will start today on a flagship £82m factory that will create hundreds of North-East jobs and return train-building to railway heartland.

And it can be revealed for the first time that the new factory at Hitachi Rail Europe's plant at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, will be built by Darlington-based contractor Shepherd.

The firm will create 150 new jobs to construct the plant, and secure hundreds more across the region's supply chain.

Business Secretary, Dr Vince Cable, and Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, will officially cut the ground on the development this morning.

When built, the 43,000sq metre Merchant Park factory will employ 730 North-East workers, who will build more than 860 carriages from 2016.

The carriages, which will be used on the Government's Intercity Express Programme (IEP), will modernise the UK's ageing 40-year-old high-speed train fleet.

Bosses say the factory will reinforce the UK’s pedigree as a train builder and allow the country to dominate European export markets.

The first locos built at the plant will be a fleet of 122 Class 800 series trains destined for the East Coast Main Line, which connects the North-East to Scotland and London, and the Great Western Main Line, that runs via Bristol to south Wales.

Hitachi says it will make the first trains at its factory in Kasado, Japan, which will be shipped to the UK for testing in early 2015, with subsequent trains made at Aycliffe.

Mark Perkins, Shepherd Group Built Environment chief executive, said the plant was a major coup for the North-East and the firm.

He said: “We are delighted to build this landmark development and have invested a vast amount of time and research into Hitachi’s requirements to deliver such a large and complex scheme.

“Our supply chain, which includes construction and engineering services, gives us great confidence that we can deliver their ambitious business plans and we look forward to starting work.”

Hitachi Rail Europe is working with developer Merchant Place Developments, who are leading the project to build and fit out the factory.

Alistair Dormer, Hitachi Rail Europe's executive chairman and chief executive, said its Aycliffe factory would place it at the forefront of the UK train-building industry.

He said: “We want to establish ourselves as a key British train maker and this factory is a huge step towards doing that.

“In just 18 months, what stands today as an empty field will become home to a state-of the-art facility, manufacturing trains for Europe and the UK.

“This investment will secure employment for more than 150 workers and many more from the supply chain.

“The majority will be from County Durham and the North-East.

“Shepherd won the tender to build the plant against strong competition and we look forward to working with them and Merchant Place Developments.”

The project has created work for a number of UK firms, including specialist glassmaker Romag, in Leadgate, near Consett, County Durham, who will make and repair windows for Hitachi's class 800 and 801 models.

Gateshead-based Petards will make passenger counting systems and driver reminder safety switches, with Nomad Digital, of Newcastle, producing on-board servers.

Dr Cable said Hitachi's decision to build its European factory in Newton Aycliffe proves the UK is an attractive place for international businesses to invest and expand.

He said: “This plant will be a great boost to the North-East economy, creating more than 700 jobs and bringing a long tradition of rail manufacturing back to the region.

"With increasing numbers of passengers set to use our railways over the coming years, we also need to train and encourage more young people to enter the industry.

“The Government has invested in a new rail training academy in Northampton, which will address skills shortages in traction and rolling stock.

“We are also creating a new rail supply chain forum to help UK companies to win work both here and abroad.”