A “rail renaissance” is under way in the North East as work on a major train manufacturing contract begins.
Siemens will employ 300 people by the end of July 2016 at its South Tyneside factory to make hi-tech parts for a fleet of 100 new trains for London’s Thameslink network.
The four-year contract for Siemens’ base in Hebburn follows an announcement from Hitachi that it will open a £1.2bn factory to build trains in County Durham next year.
Siemens services director Des Young said production of the Thameslink train parts would perfectly place the company to take on major global contracts as well as work for the High Speed 2 network when it goes out to tender.
He said: “There’s a chance here for a real rail renaissance in the North East and we would really like to be a part of that.
“We have made sure that the investment that comes here will last for more than just three or four years. There’s potential to work overseas. There’s the Hitachi supply chain too.”
Transport minister Baroness Kramer, who visited the factory yesterday said there was a “much brighter picture” for train manufacturing in the North East following Siemens successfully wining the London contract.
She said: “We have Hitachi down the road and I know the ambition for Siemens is that it doesn’t just want to supply Thameslink but that it has further rail opportunities and breadth. You need this kind of investment to lead that renaissance.”
Siemens staff today began laying the first of a complex web of cables in full scale models of carriage beds on the factory floor, and will later move onto making driver control desks and the electrical control centre of the trains.
The work will involve the recruitment of some of the country’s best engineers and recent graduates, many of whom will come from North East universities, as well as skilled time served engineers and apprentices from across the region.
Existing Siemens staff have already travelled to the company’s German factories in Dusseldorf and Nurnberg to learn how to make the new parts and work has also been created for Petards Group, based in Gateshead, which will create the CCTV cameras for each carriage.
Mr Young said: “For us Thameslink is a real opportunity. It’s involving a multi-million pound investment coming from our German headquarters into this area. This site has been here for 100 years and this building has been here for 60 years so to get the investment here is fantastic.
“We have done that because we have the skills. We have got 300 jobs and a few more in the supply chain but what’s more important for us is that level of investment means that we can take part in bidding for UK contracts for rail and further afield. If we can do Thameslink well and demonstrate that to Siemens we will have a lot more opportunities.
“We would like to be in Hitatchi’s supply chain and get work on the London Underground too.”
Baroness Kramer, who was unable to attend the official unveiling of a plaque to mark the project due to a late running train, arrived at the factory site at 2.30pm yesterday for a tour of the first cabling production line.
She said the boost in manufacturing comes at a time when major rail infrastructure projects including HS2 and an east-west high speed link will give the North East an unparalleled connectivity to the rest of the UK.
“We’ve got to catch up for generations of under investment in the system but it’s important that the UK doesn’t just benefit from new rail stock and upgraded track, but also job opportunities to built the supply chain and Siemens work in the North East is a good example of that,” she said.
Brian Shotton, 57, from South Shields, who has worked at Siemens for 41 years said the Hebburn factory contract had created a buzz within the community with many people eager to get on of the new jobs.
“Siemens has been a godsend for us, without a shadow of a doubt. Things have improved in terms of future jobs. This contract could have gone to other places. The good thing means that it’s work for us, and for other people. People are always asking when are they going to get their chance to come to Siemens.”
The Hebburn plant had to bid for the work against other factories within the company in the UK and in Germany last year. The cables, driver desks and electrical control centres for the trains will take four years to complete and the first Thameslink train will be completed in 2016.