Hitachi Rail, Newton Aycliffe

In early 2009 the journey began for Merchant Place Developments (MPD) and Merchant Park with the submission of their site in Newton Aycliffe for the planned Hitachi Rail Vehicle Manufacturing Facility which would deliver the next generation of high speed rail carriages to the UK and Europe.

The site, located just one mile from junction 59 of the A1M on the edge of Aycliffe Business Park, held a special significance in the history of passenger rail. The track adjoining the site was used by Robert Stephenson and Company to run Locomotion No. 1, the first steam locomotive to carry passengers on a public line in 1825.

The Challenges

Hitachi had several key requirements for the successful site including road and rail connectivity, availability of skilled workers, a building of circa 460,000 sq ft, a test track of 1.1km and 7MW power availability. At the time the Merchant Park site could accommodate all of the requirements except the 1.1km test track. 42 sites were shortlisted but Merchant Park was not initially shortlisted as one of the 42.

Following initial rejection of the site, Development Director Geoff Hunton, revisited the site with several consultants to reassess the viability of the new facility and to produce a solution to the apparent lack of test track. Through research and consultation with Network Rail a solution was found using the historical track adjoining the Merchant Park site and a revised submission was made to Sir Stephen Gomersall of Hitachi Rail Europe in late 2009.

The submission was produced with the backing and support of Phil Wilson, MP of Sedgefield and Durham County Council who has continued to support the project throughout its term.

In February 2010 the announcement was made that Merchant Park was the preferred site, but the announcement of the General Election delayed the progress until a decision was made by the Government regarding the Intercity Express Programme.

Although the project was delayed, awaiting decisions from the Government, the MPD team and Hitachi Rail Europe continued to discuss design. While the site was a preferred option, there were many issues to be tackled by MPD to develop the site and ensure it was suitable for the new facility and the local environment.

The site was a habitat for the protected Great Crested Newts, MPD built a one way fence to an adjacent pond which allowed newts to pass through into the protected space without being able to get back onto site.

In addition to dealing with pre-contract environmental issues covering newts, bats, birds and badgers an archaeological dig was carried out across the site, the report on which will be available later in the year.

All Aboard

An open day was held on May 26th 2011 to inform local and regional businesses of the plans for the facility and their potential roles in the supply chain for Hitachi.

Initial meetings indicated that 300–400 people could be expected to attend the event at the Xcel Centre. On the day over 1,500 people attended to hear of the plans for the facility and to find out how they could be involved. This show of interest from the North East business community reaffirmed MPD’s decision to bid for the project and Hitachi Rail Europe’s decision to name Merchant Park as their preferred site.

In July 2012 the Government signed the contract worth £4.5 billion with Hitachi for the supply of the IEP carriages, ensuring that the facility would have a sustained future and many long term jobs would be generated in the area.

The final development contract was signed in May 2013 between MPD and Hitachi opening the doors to the commencement of the archaeology work on site.

An additional £1.2 billion contract was signed in July 2013 between the Government and Hitachi for further carriages which would be produced in the new facility.

Mac Motraghi, Hitachi Rail Europe Head of Sales, commented that it was the “site availability, connectivity and the ability to deliver quality products in the region that won the approval of Hitachi” for the landmark project.

Expected On Time

The signing of the development contract ensured that Durham and the North East as a whole would see many benefits brought as a direct result of the development of the facility. Up to 730 manufacturing jobs with further jobs being created across the supply chain. The site would also potentially supply mainland Europe and would bring a significant economic return for the region in terms of further investment, employment and training opportunities. Orders already received would ensure that the jobs at the plant and many in the supply chain would be secured long term.

In November 2013 Shepherd were appointed as the contractors for the development. In December 2013 Network Rail were appointed as main contractors for construction of the new test track. The project is on programme for completion August 2015.

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