Hitachi Rail have announced up to 250 job losses at its train factory in County Durham, as one of its major contracts nears completion.
The news comes as the company prepares to complete the delivery of one of the UK’s largest train manufacturing orders of recent times, the £5.7bn government-backed Inter City Express Programme (IEP).
As the final train for the East Coast Mainline fleet will be delivered in the coming months, the company says that preparations are now beginning for the next phase of manufacturing at Newton Aycliffe, and that the factory is embarking on a transition to a “new core workforce model for greater flexibility, agility and global competitiveness.”
The company also claims that the changes and its long-term commitment to the UK are “entirely unrelated to Brexit,” and have announced a new £8.5m investment in train welding and painting, enabling a greater scope of work to be carried out at the UK plant.
The £8.5m will take Hitachi’s total investment in the factory, which opened in 2015, to around £110m in the past five years. Critically, say the company, these changes will put Hitachi Rail’s UK operation on a long-term, sustainable footing, enabling it to continue to win new train orders.
With facilities similar to those at Hitachi sister factories in Japan and Italy, the company says its UK factory will be even better placed to compete globally, with the ability to deliver a wider range of products from start to finish, from trams and metros to commuter and high-speed trains, as well as multiple projects at the same time.
Crucially, say the company, this will also ensure Hitachi is able to deliver its existing order book on time, as well as be ready to work on new manufacturing contracts. Currently, its UK factory has orders that include 61 new intercity trains for East Coast Open Access, East Midlands Railways and Avanti West Coast, with the first work due to begin in the second half of 2020.
The company says that while it is disappointed at the prospect of up to 250 employees leaving the firm, there may be opportunities for a number of staff to be redeployed to other parts of Hitachi’s rail business and, if demand increases in the future, there may be opportunities for rehiring.
Ross Nagle, COO manufacturing, 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 wider 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. 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.”