A NORTH-EAST train builder is in the running for one of Britain’s most lucrative manufacturing contracts.

Bosses behind the joint Hitachi-Bombardier bid to make trains for the HS2 high speed rail scheme say the £2.75bn contract, which could safeguard and create hundreds of jobs and apprenticeships, is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to showcase British engineering.

The Government will come under pressure to hand the work to a UK factory after Hitachi’s Newton Aycliffe plant last month lost a £1.5bn London Underground contract to a yet-to-be-built Italian factory. That decision led to accusations that ministers weren’t serious about supporting domestic manufacturers or redressing the north-south wealth divide.

Hitachi and Derby-based Bombardier will find our late next year if they have been chosen to design and build at least 54 high speed trains for HS2. They say winning the deal would act as a launchpad for investment in education and learning, adding to their partnerships with schools and the 200 apprentices and graduates who are already employed across the Derby and Aycliffe.sites.

The trains will run on Phase 1 of HS2 between London and the West Midlands. The rolling stock will also be what is known as ‘classic compatible’ so that it can travel on the current network to cities such as York, Newcastle, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Karen Boswell, MD at Hitachi Rail, said: “HS2 will form the backbone of Britain’s future rail network and is a major investment in our future prosperity. By joining together in partnership with Bombardier, we will draw on a huge wealth of UK experience and the best in modern technology – including our pioneering ‘bullet train’ experience. Our aim is to deliver a new British icon that will be recognised around the world – a Spitfire for the British railway.”

Richard Hunter, MD UK, Bombardier Transportation, said: “HS2 is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the nation’s transport network and we are very excited by the chance to play a key part in delivering it. By joining together in partnership with Hitachi we will combine both company’s global high speed expertise with unrivalled British experience, and help generate skills and prosperity across a number of UK regions.”

James Ramsbotham, chief executive, North East England Chamber of Commerce said: “This joint venture is tremendous news for the North East.  Hitachi’s Newton Aycliffe operation is outstanding in its field.  We will support their bid in any way we can and hope the Government also recognises the massive impact a contract of this scale would bring in terms of helping to rebalance our economy.”