Bullet trains for Thames Valley

Bullet train in Japan
Bullet train in Japan Photo: Mike Pearse/ ITV Meridian

Meridian can reveal the Government will announce an order for one billion pounds worth of new Japanese style bullet trains within the next week for Great Western services in the Thames Valley.

500 new carriages will be built with the first in operation around 2016 or 2017, our Transport Correspondent Mike Pearse understands. The new trains will not look quite like the latest Shinkansen bullet trains but they will have the same technology.

The latest ones in Japan have a very long nose which helps with the aerodynamics. The ones here will be shorter but will be distinctive.

Meridian cameraman Naoya Issa films a bullet train in Japan
Meridian cameraman Naoya Issa films a bullet train in Japan Credit: Mike Pearse/ ITV Meridian

The key benefit for passengers will be extra seats to ease overcrowding. The trains will be faster and being electric are more environmentally friendly. They will also have a diesel engine so if the electric power supply is interrupted they will be able to take passengers to the next station without them being stranded.

They will replace the intercity 125's intoduced in the 1970's by British Rail as the new "age of the train" made famous by a TV advert fronted by Jimmy Saville. The carriages will be built by Hitachi and similar to the new high speed trains in Kent.

In Japan they run as fast as 225 miles an hour butwill be limited to 125 here because the track is only built take trains of that speed. The shells of the trains will be built in Kasado, Japan and shipped to the UK. Here the rest of the carriages will be assembled at a new plant in the north eastwhere an expected 500 jobs will be created.

New maintenance depots will also come into operation in London, Bristol and Wales. Hitachi say the trains shells will be built in Japan because they use unique technology that would be expensive to transfer here for this order. The company say if they win more orders it would be possible to build entire trains here.

26 meter lengths of aluminium are welded together making the trains much safer in a crash.Traditionally smaller pieces are used. They will have the latest state of the art electrics but the interiors will be decided by the train operator.

The carriages will run on the line from Paddington to Bristol and Cardiff. In our region passengers will see them on the routes to Reading, Swindon, Newbury, Didcot and Banbury. Meridian has been to the Hitachi train factory in Japan.

General Manager Kentaro Masai said "Negotiations continue but if we win in this contract it will be an honour to build these trains. They will have Japanese technology that will make them safe and reliable.We will also use our technology to give passengers a smooth ride. At Hitachi we deliver what we say and these trains will be a good addition to the UK network."

When the order is announced critics, including the rail union RMT, will argue a British company should have been awarded the contract with the entire fleet built here creating even more UK jobs.

Politicians will hit out at the deal saying up to 2,000 new carriages were originally going to be ordered and the Intercity Express Project (IEP), as its called, has been cut back. But the Government will argue this is the best deal for the the taxpayer and Hitachi won because it put in the best price and was overall the most competitive tender.

Sources at the Department for Transport confirmed the order was "in the very final stages of negotiation" and an announcement was expected before the start of the Olympics.

Our Transport Correspondent Mike Pearse was given exclusive access to the Hitachi factory in Kasado which is close to Hiroshima and to ride on the world famous Shinkansen bullet trains.

In this report he talks to Kentaro Masai of the Kasado factory and Darren Cumner who will be in charge of the assembly plant in the UK for the trains.