Intercity Express Program History
Timeline of developments and key dates in the introduction of the IEP trains
After a lengthy period of testing, in October 2017 the new Hitachi- built IEP trains saw their introduction into service on GWR routes. They’re to be followed in 2018 with the Virgin Azuma introduction on East Coast Main Line tracks.
The new trains mark a start of a new era in high speed train travel, replacing the Inter-City 125 fleets which have served UK rail travellers so well for over 40 years….but as you might expect, it’s not all been plain sailing, with the IEP’s having to negotiate a number of hurdles on the way.
On this page we’ll take a summary look at the history of the IEP programme. More recent IEP Intercity Express news can be found on the dedicated news page.
It was in early February 2009 when the department for Transport announced that a consortium led by Hitachi would be the preferred bidder to procure the trains that would eventually replace the ailing Intercity 125 fleet.
However, production hit a number of early snags that prevented the final decision on awarding the contract (which was eventually won by a consortium calling itself Agility Trains) from being decided.
First, there were plans to electrify part of the rail network, and the decision to award the contract was to be delayed until this work had been completed. It took about one year for the electrification process work to complete, but still the award decision was delayed further as the United Kingdom had a general election looming in the next four months, and the Department of Transport (under a Labour Party controlled government) may not even be in power after May 2010.
Early Setbacks and Delays
After the general election, there had indeed been a change of government. The Labour Party was beaten into second place by The Conservative Party, who still did not hold enough seats to form a government on its own. The Tory Party, led by David Cameron, asked the Liberal Democrats, led by Nick Clegg, to merge into a coalition government and run the country until the next general election in May 2015. This coalition then formed – but still the decision to get the program up and running was being thwarted by delays!
An independent report was being compiled which was looking into whether the program was offering “value for money”. The Prime Minister David Cameron, leading the coalition, decided Britain would enter into an austerity drive and cut costs from just about every sector and public spending was about to take a big hit.
The report came out in the summer of 2010 but there was still intransigence from the coalition government to get the project moving. A decision was to be made as to whether the Great Western Main Line should be electrified, and this decision was not expected to be made until November 2010.
Eventually the decision to go ahead with the electrification was made in March 2011 to proceed with the program and procure the trains.
It took another 16 months (while the electrification of the Great Western Main Line was taking place) before the coalition government’s Department for Transport announced the order for the trains would go ahead.
Finally, in the month of July 2012 a £4.5 billion order for nearly 600 carriages for use on the East Coast and Great Western main lines was formally announced. Financial support for the program was approved for the first phase of the program (that being the trains to run on the Great Western Main Line). Financial approval for the second phase was promised at the time to go ahead within one year.
However, one year on and in the summer of 2013, closure on the second phase was delayed. There was an option of £1.2 billion to be approved to build 30 x 9-car train sets to replace the Intercity 225 fleet on the East Coast Main Line, but it took right until April 2014 before this financial closure was actually given the green light.
As the program moved forward into the latter part of 2015, the trains began being built at the Newton Aycliffe plant. The Great Western Main Line began running its trains on some routes in October 2017, with the East Coast Main Line planning to see the service operating on its network during 2018.