British commuters are making trips on Japanese-built high-speed trains for the first time, with more orders expected to follow for the European unit of Hitachi Ltd. if the project proves successful. Since Monday, travelers from Kent, southeast England, have been using Hitachi's six-car Class 395 in a ''preview'' rail service to slash times into central London. The service, which has been introduced on a limited basis until its full introduction in December, is being billed as Britain's fastest domestic service and connects Ashford in Kent to London's St. Pancras station.
British commuters, long accustomed to unreliable train services, have reacted ''extremely positively'' to the Japanese-built trains, according to railway officials. The Hitachi ''Javelin'' trains reach speeds of up to 224 kilometers per hour on the high-speed route which is also used by the Eurostar trains that run between London and Paris via the Channel Tunnel. At full capacity, there will be a total of 29 trains using the line which is operated by Southeastern Rail. The new service sees the journey time from Ashford to London (about 108 km) being cut from about one hour and 20 minutes to 37 minutes. Once the full service is running, it is intended that the trains will connect central London with the stadium in east London that is being built for the 2012 Olympics. The Javelin trains will also stop at other Kent commuter towns beyond Ashford. The contract for the trains was worth 260 million pounds ($423 million) and they were constructed at Hitachi's Kasado plant in Japan's Yamaguchi Prefecture. Hitachi is hoping it will lead to future contracts in Britain and Europe. In February, a consortium led by Hitachi Europe Ltd. won a 7.5 billion pound contract to supply Britain's intercity rail network with a fleet of Hitachi Super Express Trains. The massive contract for 1,400 new carriages has sparked criticism from a British-based train manufacturer which says it takes jobs out of the country. But Hitachi says the majority of the work will be completed in Britain at a new facility.© Japan Today