THE Japanese government yesterday lobbied ministers to urge them not to reject Hitachi’s £7.5bn plans to bring train building back to the region.

Shin Ebihara, the country’s ambassador to the UK, requested the meeting with Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, as one of his last acts before leaving the post.

Meanwhile, it is understood that Yutaka Banno, Japan’s Foreign Secretary, is also attempting to secure talks at the Department for Transport (Dft), when he arrives in Britain next week.

The powerful twin-pronged lobbying operation underlines the huge importance of the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) to the world’s third-biggest economy – as well as to the North-East.

Hitachi has pledged to create 800 posts at a landmark factory in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, with a further 8,000 jobs in the supply chain, if it secures the go-ahead.

In stark contrast – as The Northern Echo revealed – an alternative proposal to replace Britain’s ageing fleet of Inter City 125s is unlikely to create any British jobs.

If Mr Hammond opts for electric trains, pulled by diesel locomotives on sections without overhead power lines, they would be bought “off the shelf” from abroad, sources have confirmed.

However, it now appears that a decision could still be several weeks away, despite earlier suggestions that it would come at the start of this year.

Mr Hammond is awaiting advice on whether Hitachi’s proposal for “hybrid” electric/diesel trains offers better value for money than the alternative of coupling electric trains with diesel locomotives.

A second issue is the legal difficulty of untangling the twoyear status of the Hitachi-led consortium Angel Trains as the contract’s preferred bidder. A fresh tendering process would have to be launched.

Meanwhile, Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson will meet Theresa Villiers, Mr Hammond’s deputy, after she invited the Labour MP to discuss the way forward.

In a letter, Ms Villiers wrote: “The operational and financial features of each option is being scrutinised with great care to ensure the right decision is made.

“The proposal by Agility Trains to establish a UK factory is acknowledged and remains a factor, along with other matters which the department will consider before reaching a conclusion.”

Mr Wilson said: “I’m pleased that the minister has stated that the prospect of a factory in my constituency is a factor and I look forward to meeting her.”

Neil Foster, Northern TUC campaigns officer, said: “Why hasn’t the Government yet committed to the Agility consortium, which would create 800 direct and 7,500 indirect British jobs? Why are they considering an off-theshelf option overseas?”

Diesel locomotives are made in Germany and the US, while most electric trains are manufactured in Germany, France and Spain, although some are made in Derby by Bombardier.