Hitachi and IEP


The UK opted to buy trains from Hitachi as replacement multiple-unit sets for the highly successful Inter-City 125 diesel trains built in BR workshops in the 1970s.  The intervening years have not been kind to the UK rail industry, with the closure and in some cases demolition of engineering design and manufacturing workshops.  It was inevitable that the new generation of 21st Century trains would be designed and built outside the UK.

That said, of course, the Class 900, ‘Pendolino’ trains for the West Coast Main Line were designed and built by Alstom, using the remains of the Washwood Heath works of Metro-Cammell in Birmingham, with Fiat providing the tilting technology.  (The technology was sold to the Italian company following the demise of British Rail, and BREL in the early 1990s, but again, to be fair, Italian railways had already been testing tilt technology.)  The same combination of Alstom and Metro-Cammell resulted in the TMST trains for Channel Tunnel services too, so the capacity and capability were in existence in the UK.

The involvement of Hitachi in the UK, seems to date from more than a decade after the disastrous early years of ‘privatisation’, but includes other, highly successful regional and high-speed commuter trains, such as the Class 395 (‘Javelin’) series.

Within the whole IEP programme, there is some involvement by British companies, but equally some multi-nationals with British based sites.  Still some way to go before the UK can build its own again – perhaps an industrial or engineering strategy might help.

GWR Intercity Express Train edited

Hitachi Class 800 on the GWR main line – this is one of the 36, 5-car dual-fuel sets for use on the non-electrified as well as the electrified sections of the route.                                                              [Photo: GWR – Creative Commons Attribution]

The latest generation of Hitachi designed trains – known as Class 800 and Class 801 – will see 110 of 122 fixed length train sets built at the recently completed plant at Newton Aycliffe, in County Durham.  The first 12 trains were shipped shipped to the UK from  Hitachi’s Kasado Works in Japan, whilst another example of dual-fuel trains – the Class 802 is being built at the Italian works in Pistoia, which Hitachi bought from Ansaldo Breda in November 2015.  The reason the construction is being carried out there, is said to be because the new UK site is at full capacity.  The diesel engines fitted to these trains are being provided by MTU, and originally rated at 560kW, whilst the latest design for the GWR has engines rated at 700kW – is that a case of the “Devon Banks” demanding more power again, just as it did in the days of steam?

Of these 122 sets, 57 are destined for the newly electrified Great Western Railway main line, which has now been energised as far as Didcot.

This was an intriguing phrase used in the original press release when the order was placed back in 2009:

The design provides pre-defined interior flexibility that will allow Train Operating Companies to customise trains to meet their customers’ requirements.

Given the UK’s apparent inability to predict either the increase in passenger numbers, or the capacity of either long distance, or suburban routes, how does this help I wonder.  Can additional coaches (passenger cars) be added to fixed formation sets to increase train capacity, and how will that impact station and route characteristics?

Another oddity in the order for Hitachi – which included maintenance and support – was that the duration of the contract was stated as 27.5 years.  What’s the 1/2 a year for?  Why not 27, or 28?  Well the answer to that is of course pretty straightforward, financial advisors have recommended including a clause to enable train operators to pay the rolling stock owners, Agility Trains a fee, based on the trains’ availability.  Easy – the trains’ is measured on a daily basis, and the fee paid to Agility Trains is focussed on each train that is available each day.  Too simple – of course, on top of that, the DfT is guaranteeing their use for 27½-years.  That must have been some spreadsheet!

On the GWR, the Class 800s, both those built at Newton Aycliffe, and those from Pistoia in Italy will be serviced and marinated at Hitachi’s new Stoke Gifford site, near Britstol.

Train at Stoke Gifford (2) copy

Intercity Express Train at Stoke Gifford depot [Photo: GWR – Creative Commons Attribution]

So what do the original Class 800 and 801 formations look like:-


No. of Trains



Great Western Electric


9 cars


Diesel & electric


5 cars






The trains intended for use on the Great Western are planned to come into service later in 2017, whilst those for the East Coast Main Line arrive from 2018, but with the option to buy a further 30 electric only trains.

Ironically perhaps, in a response to an FOI request in 2011, this is what the DfT said:

“1) The first IEP trains will enter revenue earning service in 2016.”


No. of Trains



East Coast Electric


5 cars


Diesel & electric


5 cars


Diesel & electric


9 cars






Electric (optional)


9 cars


Back in 2013, when Hitachi opened their new manufacturing facility, the then Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin made this statement:

“The Intercity Express Programme is part of the government’s commitment to investing in our nation’s infrastructure. Once they are on the network they will slash journey times, boost capacity to many of our cities in the south west and up the east coast to Scotland.

Building these new trains is supporting jobs and manufacturing across the UK. Like our plans for a national high speed rail network, these new faster trains will help stimulate economic growth by improving connections between our major cities.”

Having said all of that, these trains seem to be meeting all the design and technical criteria well – though the operational criteria is not yet available.

Given the original reason for the whole IEP programme, perhaps the HST, or InterCity 125 fleet could be freed up and recycled for use on other main lines across the country.  Paired with the Mark III coaching stock, and now running broadly similar MTU diesel engines, they would make far more comfortable cross-country trains than the cramped ‘Voyager’ units.


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