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Hitachi high-speed trains make UK debut

New rail cars the first of 866 to be delivered for British project

Hitachi Vice President Kentaro Masai stands beside a Class 800 high-speed train.

LONDON -- Hitachi high-speed trains began servicing London and the western U.K. on Monday, with more to come on other intercity routes as part of a modernization project in the birthplace of rail transport.

The Hitachi Class 800 series trains connect London to the western city of Swansea at a top speed of 201kph. This shortens the roughly 300km trip by 15 minutes to an hour and a half. The new trains run on both electricity and diesel to work in nonelectrified areas.

Hitachi is slated to deliver a total of 866 cars for the 5.7 billion pound ($7.54 billion) intercity rail project, which will also replace existing stock on a line connecting London and Scotland. The Japanese industrial group builds them at a plant in northeastern England that employs some 1,000 workers.

Class 800 cars "include the latest in technology and quality developed in Japan," Hitachi Vice President Kentaro Masai said. They offer more interior space, as well as less noise and vibrations. LED interior lighting is a nod to energy conservation. A Japanese designer conceived the sleek exterior.

With its aging rail infrastructure, the U.K. offers bright prospects as a market for Japanese train technology. But concerns remain over how the planned British exit from the European Union will affect Hitachi's infrastructure business in the region. Masai said the Japanese company will work with the rolling-stock and signaling operations it acquired in 2015 from Italy's Finmeccanica in 2015 to respond "flexibly" to any changes resulting from Brexit.

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