iep.jpgThe IEP deal is still subject to the satisfactory completion of financial negotiations, but it is hoped to sign the contract by the end of the year, enabling the first trains to enter service in 2016. Under the 30-year fixed-price deal, Agility Trains will fund the construction of the trains at a new factory to be built by Hitachi in Newton Aycliffe in northeast England. The facility should be operational by 2013. Agility Trains will also maintain the trains and provide them to operators on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Agility Trains will supply 183 electric coaches and 350 dual-mode electric-diesel vehicles to be formed into five and eight-car trains. The dual-mode cars will have underfloor diesel engines. The trains will be used to replace the remaining diesel HSTs operating on the East Coast Main Line linking London King's Cross, northeast England and Scotland, and part of the HST fleet currently operated by First Great Western. The government says the new trains will provide 11,000 more seats during peak hours.

The IEP programme was launched by the government in November 2005. Agility Trains was selected in February 2009 as preferred bidder for IEP in competition with a consortium of Bombardier and Siemens (IRJ March 2009 p4). The original plan was for Agility Trains to supply up 1400 coaches in deal worth up to £7.5 billion. However, the financial crisis delayed negotiations and led to the project being scaled back. Agility Trains says it was close to reaching commercial closure of the original deal when in February 2010 the former transport secretary Lord Adonis appointed Sir Andrew Foster to review the IEP project. "Since that date, the negotiations have been on hold, but the Hitachi bid remained valid," says Hitachi.

Hammond has also approved an associated £704 million scheme to extend 25kV ac electrification from Didcot west to Bristol and Cardiff. A proposal to extend electrification west from Cardiff to Swansea was rejected as uneconomic, which means dual-mode trains are needed to maintain a London - Swansea through service. However, the government is considering the electrification of commuter lines in the Cardiff area. The new trains combined with electrification will enable London Paddington - Cardiff/Bristol journey times to be reduced by about 20 minutes.