UP to 250 jobs could be lost from a train building company in County Durham after the firm announced it would be making redundancies.

Hitachi Rail is cutting the workforce at its factory in Newton Aycliffe as it nears the completion of its trains for its inter city express programme and says the changes to its workforce will put it on a long-term, sustainable footing.

It started a 45-day consultation process with staff at the factory today, when it also announced an £8.5m investment in its painting and welding facilities.

Ross Nagle, the manufacturing chief operating officer for Hitachi Rail, said: "We're proud to be investing £8.5m in new train welding and painting capabilities at Newton Aycliffe, making the factory more competitive and sustainable.

"It will allow us to complete the full scope of train manufacturing for our customers across a wide range of products, making us one of the most advanced train building factories in the UK.

"New train fleets built by employees at Newton Aycliffe over the last four years are helping to transform Britain's railway, of which we couldn't be more proud.

The Northern Echo:

Hitachi's inter city express trains at its factory in Newton Aycliffe

"However, the cyclical nature of demand in the industry means the factory must be more flexible and agile to secure a long-term, sustainable future."

A spokesperson for Hitachi confirmed changes would affect up to 250 at the factory but said some staff could be moved to other parts of the business, reducing the number affected by redundancy.

One worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "It's very sombre at the moment.

"It had always been rumoured that it would happen at the end but as the project has progressed nothing has been let on that it would be any time soon that they were making redundancies.

"If people are affected they will be getting letters in the next week or so. There's been no clear intention of how they are going to make cuts so at the moment everyone feels like it could be them."

The company said the move was not related to Brexit. 

Sedgefield MP Paul Howell said: "It's clearly disappointing, particularly for the employees affected. That's where your first thought goes in any situation like this.

"My first reaction has been to speak to the Department of Work and Pensions to see that they are set up to provide what support we can.

The Northern Echo:

Sedgefield MP Paul Howell

"The encouraging part of the announcement is that its to reset and and its about investing in the future, creating a platform so Hitachi can be more competitive in the future."

He added: "Every company has to make it's own sustainable future. It's about the Government creating the right economic climate. That's what we will be attempting."

Hitachi opened in Newton Aycliffe in 2015 and will this year complete one of the UK’s largest train manufacturing orders of recent times – the £5.7bn, Government-backed inter city express programme. 

Hitachi says the changes will make the factory more flexible and will see 40 existing staff members being trained in welding or painting as part of a “significant upskilling programme”. 

Meanwhile, the factory layout will be redesigned within the footprint of the existing buildings, with the new facilities, similar to sister factories in Japan and Italy, expected to be completed in autumn 2020. 

Currently Newton Aycliffe has orders that include 61 new intercity trains for East Coast Open Access, East Midlands Railway and Avanti West Coast, with the first work due to begin in the second half of 2020. 

A spokesperson for the company added: “While it is disappointing to be reducing jobs in Newton Aycliffe, if demand increases in the future there may be opportunities for re-hiring.”

Tonight, Alex Cunningham, the MP for Stockton North, raised the job losses as a point of order in Parliament.

He said: "The announcement by Hitachi to cut its North-East workforce is a devastating blow to the employees who are now looking at 2020 with uncertainty about whether they will have a job in the near future.

"It’s also a blow to our local economy, and I would like to know what the Tory Government will be doing to support the company to adapt without the need for redundancies.

“I’ve made enquiries with Hitachi and will be meeting with representatives as soon as possible to discuss what can be done to support employees as we move forward and I’ve requested a meeting with the Secretary of State.”

Durham County Council's employability team will be working with Business Durham and the Government's rapid response team to help people at risk of redundancy.

Cllr Carl Marshall, its cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “Hitachi’s decision to open a plant in Newton Aycliffe was a major coup for County Durham and the firm is hugely important to our economy.

“We are pleased to hear Hitachi remains committed to its UK operations. Indeed, we should not lose sight of the major contracts the company has won and its plans for new multi-million-pound welding and painting facilities at Newton Aycliffe.

“As a council, we have encouraged and supported Hitachi to invest in our county from the outset. We will continue to do so in the interests of its employees and the wider prosperity of County Durham and the North East, while lobbying the Government for more sustained longer-term investment in the rail industry.”