Newton Aycliffe, northeastern England: this is where the world’s first passenger steam train was born in 1825.
Nearly two centuries on, the world’s most modern trains are being built here, based on Japan’s state-of-the-art Shinkansen technology.
The factory opened in September 2015. The aim is to upgrade Britain’s ageing fleet with 122 brand new intercity express trains. The first will be up and running on the east and west coasts later this year.
While the design is Japanese and some parts are made in Japan, the assembly is 100% British. These are not exactly the same as the Japanese Shinkansen – they have been adapted to local needs, for example by using bi-mode technology – which offers seamless transfer from diesel power to electric that is undetectable to passengers.
“They can switch without stopping. It’s very unique. You can be on a journey, and the overhead line might go off, and you can just switch it to bi-mode into diesel without having to stop,” explains Nina Harding, Communications Manager at Hitachi Europe.
It represents an economic boost for the region, creating some 1.000 jobs in the factory alone, as well as the indirect jobs linked to the sub-contracts.
“We’re doing a lot of work in the local community, we sponsored the new university technical college. And so we can inspire the next generation of train builders and engineers, and keep people in the region because the North East needs all these people to stay in the region,” says Nina Harding.
The Shinkansen trains have been running in Japan since 1964. They are not just famous for their high speed, but also offer comfort, punctuality, and exceptional safety: there has been no serious accident involving a Shinkansen train in half a century. India has announced it will use Japanese Shinkansen technology for its first high speed trains.
The Japanese bullet trains have been around in the southeast of England since 2009 on the Eurostar line. The Javelin has dramatically reduced travel time between Ashford and London. Running at 225 kilometres an hour, it covers the 85-kilometre distance in just over half an hour.
Euronews’ Serge Rombi tested it. He spoke to train driver Andrew Perry. “It’s a much more modern train. The driving is faster, which is obviously nicer. The difference really is just about that: it’s about less stopping, more speed and driving a much better train,” he said.
A great improvement for all those who commute to London every day, not only when it comes to performance but also to passenger comfort.
“Sometimes in the morning it’s really busy, but you always get a seat,” said one commuter. “And there are chargers, so you can charge your phone or your laptop, which is really good.”
“It always runs on time, it’s very fast, it’s comfortable. And I go outside the rush hour, so there’s always plenty of space,” said another.
A high-end service which has earned the Javelin top marks when it comes to customer satisfaction according to independent surveys.
“The Javelin train regularly achieves 99% service availability and also a very high level of reliability. And it delivers an excellent passenger service and passenger experience into London,” Hitachi Rail Europe depot manager Mark Hughes tells us.
Every day, one of the 29 Javelin trains running in the UK is sent to the railway depot for inspection. The trains get a full monthly checkup.
Reliability and security – essential assets that have convinced railway operators, according to Koji Agatsuma, head of engineering at Hitachi Rail Europe.
“We satisfy our customers. The customers believe us, so we get more orders. We bring more satisfaction, so we get more orders. That is our simple and very important strategy based on the Japanese culture of ‘omotenashi’," he says.
A Japanese word often translated simply as ‘hospitality’, ‘omotenashi’ is all about putting guests first to provide the best service possible.
That’s it for our first edition of Global Japan. Join us next in Africa where we will show you how Japan is becoming a new model of cooperation with the continent.