PROBLEMS caused on the country’s rail network by ice could become a thing of the past if the Government awards the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) to Hitachi, ministers have been told.

The Japanese company said its bi-mode IEP trains would change to diesel at the flick a switch if problems with the overhead electric cables were encountered.

Damaged power lines on the East Coast Main Line caused cancellations and delays to dozens of services on Tuesday.

The problems, caused by freezing temperatures, left many passengers heading for the North-East fretting about their festive plans.

Yesterday, there were further problems on the rail network caused by ice.

Alistair Dormer, managing director of Hitachi Rail Europe, said the manufacturer had nearly five decades’ experience in building high-speed trains in Japan, where some areas regularly saw severe weather during the winter.

He said: “The Hitachi Class 395, which runs between London St Pancras and the Kent coast, has performed exceptionally well in all weather conditions, on all routes, while other trains have been unable to operate. We have not let passengers down and have continued to deliver a reliable service.”

Mr Dormer said the trains being proposed for IEP were a combination of electric and bi-mode trains, with the latter type able to run on diesel as well as electricity.

He said: “Should problems arise with the electric power supply, our electric trains will be fitted with a small emergency diesel engine to move the train safely to the nearest station, unblock the line and transfer passengers.

“While our bi-mode trains will simply switch to diesel mode at the flick of a switch and continue the journey.”

Mr Dormer said that even when lines were closed for maintenance, bi-mode trains would be able to take diversions on non-electrified routes. This removes the need for the deeply unpopular replacement bus services.

The Government has indicated that it will make a decision on IEP in the new year.

Hitachi has stated that it would build a factory in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, if it won the contract.