WORK on a multi-billion pound train contract which will create hundreds of jobs at a South Tyneside firm is going full steam ahead.
Production of hi-tech components for the £6.5bm Thameslink rolling stock project got underway today at the Siemens plant in North Farm Road, Hebburn.
The site won the lucrative electric train contract - which will spark a 300-jobs boom - against stiff competition from Siemens plants across the country.
The launch was celebrated in style at the plant - with a start-of-work opening ceremony attended by The Government’s Transport Minister Baroness Kramer, South Tyneside Mayor, Coun Fay Cunningham and the council’s chief executive, Martin Swailes.
A range of job opportunities will be made available during the project, with a major recruitment drive on fresh positions to start in the months ahead.
The rolling stock project is part of the Government sponsored £6.5bn Thameslink Programme that will create a further 6,000 jobs and transform north-south travel through London.
The first trains are expected to run on the Thameslink north-south route between Bedford and Brighton from 2016, and will deliver more capacity on the route and provide more frequent and reliable transport connections with the capital.
Siemens say the ‘veins and brains’ of the trains will be completed in South Tyneside.
The first components to be manufactured are cable harnesses, followed by drivers’ instruments and control desks, electrical cabinets, ceiling containers and coupler boxes. which will all be produced at the facility over the next three to four years.
The plant has been revamped in readiness for the start of the intensive programme of work, including reconfiguration of the shop floor and facilities to accommodate the significant production volumes of the Thameslink contract.
Additional warehouse storage and car parking have been created on site, along with improved security and access.
Des Young, asset services director at the plant, said: “This is an important day for the Hebburn site, South Tyneside and the North East more widely.
“Thameslink isn’t just connecting London to the rest of the country, it’s also creating and protecting hi-tech jobs in the region, allowing us to compete both in the domestic and global rail equipment supply business.
“We hope Thameslink is just the beginning of the specialist manufacturing to be undertaken in Hebburn.
“We are confident the work conducted for Thameslink here will show the North East has the skills, capacity and hi-tech facilities to support major rail projects in the UK and overseas.”
Transport minister Baroness Kramer, who has on hand for the first day of production, said: “The start of production at Hebburn is great news for the region, as well as being a major milestone in the Thameslink project, which is generating more than 8,000 jobs nationwide and will transform travel through central London when it completes in 2018.”
Across the UK, Siemens will generate up to 2,000 jobs under the Thameslink rolling stock project in component manufacturing, assembly of parts, the construction of the new depots, and subsequent train maintenance.
When components are made in hebburn, they will be transported to Germany, where the trains are being assembled.
Iain Smith, Thameslink programme director for Siemens Rail Systems, said: “I am delighted to see work commence in Hebburn on this important project making hi-tech components for the Thameslink fleet.
“The work that will be done in Hebburn will compliment the work of a wide range of UK and European suppliers involved in the project.
“These trains will play a crucial role in modernising our transport network.
“The Class 700 Desiro City trains have been designed with British commuters in mind and will improve reliability, energy efficiency, passenger access and comfort.
“We believe this will change commuting for the better.
South Tyneside’s Mayor, Coun Fay Cunningham, said: “This is a very, very good news story for South Tyneside.
“Hopefully it will be the start of many more contracts to come, which will provide employment for the people of South Tyneside.
“It is great that this project is being carried out in England and in our borough.”