The United Kingdom recently unveiled a new plan to revamp its inter-city rail system, awarding Hitachi a contract to develop new, more efficient and lightweight trains, called the "Super-Express". The 7.5 billion-pound upgrade comes in the midst of the worst global recession in decades, but transport secretary Geoff Hoon is confident that investing now will pay off, both in the short term job creation and the long term infrastructure boost.
He said, "This announcement demonstrates that this Government is prepared to invest, even in difficult economic times, by improving our national infrastructure. It is good news for the British Economy that over 12,500 jobs will be created and safeguarded; good news for the regions that the Government is supporting significant inward investment; and good news for passengers that we are taking the steps necessary to improve their rail journeys."
Describing the trains, he added "The 125 mph (200kph) Super Express trains will reduce overcrowding as they will be longer, the new carriages will be 26m in length as opposed to the 23m in Intercity vehicles currently in use. This will mean that they will carry up to 21 per cent more passengers per train than current rolling stock. The faster journey times will also allow operators to run more frequent services.
“A typical journey between London and Leeds will shorten by around 10 mins, between London and Edinburgh by 12 mins, between London and Bristol by 10 mins and between London and Cardiff by 15 mins.”
However, not everyone considers this good news. Britain's largest rail trade union, the RMT, is frustrated that the contract was awarded to Hitachi, a Japanese company. The British government admitted that not all of the jobs and value created by the project would be based domestically. Hitachi plans to manufacture some parts in Japan, and then ship them to the UK, where they would be assembled.
Overall, I think that this issue was predictable. In tough times, protectionism always rises, and no one is ever happy to lose a contract. History will judge whether or not Britain made the right choice.
The project is expected to be fully complete by 2013, with some routes open as soon as 2011.
Here is Hitachi's promotional video: