Japan's Hitachi inks British rail deal

Japan's Hitachi will supply nearly 600 train carriages for Britain's inter-city high-speed rail project in a deal worth £4.5 billion, the company and the British government said Wednesday.

The giant conglomerate won the project along with British partner John Laing in 2009 but negotiations had been delayed after a change of government in Britain.

The firms will supply 92 complete trains -- comprised of 596 carriages -- to replace the ageing fleet on Britain's inter-city rail networks, with Hitachi holding a 70-percent stake in the consortium while John Laing has 30 percent.

"I am extremely pleased that after a long period of negotiations, we have been able to complete the formal contract for this project," Hitachi president Hiroaki Nakanishi said in a statement.

The firm said it would construct a new factory and several maintenance depots in Britain to service the fleet, which can reach speeds of 200 kilometres per hour (125 miles per hour) and alternate between electric and diesel power.

"With a considerable reduction in weight per seat when compared to the trains currently running on the line, the fleet of trains will use less energy to deliver improved journey times," it said.

Hitachi, whose products range from microchips to railways, has been shifting its business focus from consumer electronics to more stable, large-scale infrastructure projects abroad.

Hitachi said it would build the new factory in Newton Aycliffe in northern England to assemble the train cars, and aimed for the plant to be fully operational by 2015.

The facility is expected to create 730 skilled jobs in addition to 200 jobs during construction of the plant, according to a statement from Britain's department for transport.

"The decision to build almost 600 new inter-city train carriages is great for rail passengers who will experience faster and more comfortable journeys when travelling across Britain on the East Coast and Great Western main lines," British Transport Minister Justine Greening said in the statement.

The project will replace Britain's current fleet of InterCity 125 High Speed Trains originally rolled out by British Rail in the 1970s and 1980s, the department said.

"A new train factory is fantastic news for Britain and will be welcomed by everyone who wants to see a thriving UK manufacturing sector," Greening said.

The new capacity will mean more seats and less crowding between Britain's major cities, the department said.

The new trains "will offer a step-change in passenger comfort through increased carry-on luggage space, electronic seat reservations, and no compromise on leg-room", the department added.

"A performance regime will encourage the trains to run reliably throughout the life of the fleet."

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