A RAIL company could use Chinese high-speed trains to shave at least ten minutes off journey times to London from the North-East.

Grand Central Railway (GCR) plans to place an order - potentially worth between £25m and £30m - for the Polaris trains, capable of up to 140mph.

The firm said the new stock would be able to take advantage of any future line speed increases on the East Coast Main Line.

GCR is readying itself to launch three daily services between Sunderland, Hartlepool, Eaglescliffe, Northallerton, Thirsk, York and London King's Cross from May 20 using refurbished HST trains with a maximum speed of 125mph.

However, it said that as parts for six engines have yet to be delivered, it may have to consider leasing another company's engines or face delaying the launch.

Last night, managing director Ian Yeowart rejected suggestions that the company was getting ahead of itself by preparing to place an order for the new stock.

He said: "The delivery of the rebuilt HSTs is of course the first target, but the discussions that have taken place over many months on the new-build trains gives us confidence that they will be an exceptional replacement for the HST. This was already part of our original plan which envisaged new-build rolling stock.

"We have to plan five years ahead of ourselves in railway terms in order to be ready for any changes that may come."

The Polaris trains will be made available by Grand Central's sister company, Sovereign Trains. They will be bought from China and delivered to the UK for final testing in 2010.

The trains are more environmentally friendly, giving off less diesel emissions.

They also have the potential to operate in a hybrid format - using both diesel and electric-powered cars, again reducing the impact on the environment.

As well as this, the trains are said to be cheaper to run and maintain than existing rail stock.

David Shipley, director of engineering at Sovereign Trains, said: "A great deal of effort and resources have been put into preparing Grand Central for operation, and we are sure passengers will be impressed not only by the new trains but also by the rebuilt HSTs when they come into operation."