Union leaders have called on the Government to extend a vital train contract at Hitachi’s Newton Aycliffe factory as fears grow for the site's future - with hundreds of jobs at stake.

The union Unite spoke after it emerged at the weekend that factory bosses had failed to reach an agreement with the Government to keep the order books full.

Bosses at Hitachi said they have been in talks for two years in an attempt to find a solution, but this had "not resulted in a positive resolution".

The factory keeps 750 people in work on-site, alongside another 1,400 jobs indirectly. 

Union leaders will travel to London tomorrow (Tuesday), where they plan to hold a series of meetings with ministers and government officials over the looming crisis. The Northern Echo: Hitachi's Newton Aycliffe plant

The factory is currently working on two large contracts for West Coast and East Midlands railways, but work is set to end on them by October 2024, with no new contracts in the short-term.

Union leaders say West Coast Railway contract contains an option to purchase more trains that was supposed to be decided upon in March 2023.

The delays in decision-making by the Department of Transport (DfT) and other parties means the factory is facing a production gap starting in late 2024.The Northern Echo: Hitachi factory in Newton Aycliffe

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The Government needs to pull its finger out and tender the extension of the West Coast contract to Hitachi immediately.

“Ministers talk a good game about levelling up. The fact is, however, that at both Hitachi in Newton Aycliffe and Alstom in Debry, workers are in disbelief that ministerial incompetence is delaying announcements that would safeguard highly skilled jobs.

“The right decisions need to be made now for these workers – Unite will be holding the government to account until they are.”The Northern Echo: Hitachi factory in Newton Aycliffe

This month, prime minister Rishi Sunak visited New Aycliffe, where he argued that levelling up has not been a failure.

Union leaders pointed out that, despite it being one of the biggest employers in County Durham and Sunak being a stone’s throw from the factory, he did not attend the site during his visit.

Unite regional officer Sharon Bailey said: “The government claims to be committed to levelling up in the North but the lack of decision making regarding the West Coast contract extension is the exact opposite of that.

“Rishi Sunak is aware of the issues facing Hitachi in Newton Aycliffe. Tory MP for the constituency, Paul Howells, promised to raise them with him a few weeks ago after to speaking to Unite’s reps at the factory.

“Sunak’s silence on the matter during his visit was shocking. The prime minister needs to put his money where his mouth is on levelling up and get this contract extension announced.”

This weekend, Hitachi said it was reviewing its options.

In a statement, it said: “We have been engaged in discussions at all levels of UK government for two years, in an attempt to find a solution to the production gap at our Newton Aycliffe manufacturing facility.

“Disappointingly these discussions have not resulted in a positive resolution.

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"We are now reviewing all remaining options available to us in order to keep our manufacturing teams building rolling stock to support the UK rail industry.”

Sedgefield MP Paul Howell, who has championed the Newton Aycliffe plant, said last night (Sunday): "I am as disappointed as anyone a resolution could not be achieved and I am working as hard as I can to support Hitachi and encourage Government to consider any and all possible options."

The Department for Transport said: “The Government is committed to supporting the entire sector and is working with all rolling stock manufacturers, including Hitachi, on the future pipeline of orders which we expect to remain strong in the coming years.”