The Department for Transport has issued an invitation to tender for the Intercity Express programme to three consortiums short-listed for the project.
The bidders are Alstom-Barclays Rail Group, Express Rail Alliance (comprising Bombardier, Siemens, Angel Trains and Babcock & Brown) and Hitachi Europe. They are tasked with designing lighter, greener trains which can carry up to 70 per cent more passengers.
The first new trains will start trials in 2012, and they will begin to replace existing high speed trains from 2015. In the first phase they will be introduced on the East Coast and Great Western main lines.
Government specification for the new trains demands that they are between 27 and 40 per cent more energy efficient than the trains they replace. For self-powered trains the government requires an improved energy efficiency of up to 35 per cent, with a minimum of 10 per cent.
As well as the increased capacity on board, the new trains will allow operators to run longer and more frequent services. Combined, this will see an increase of between 15 and 70 per cent more seats on the initial routes.
Trains must be lighter, to help increase energy efficiency and reduce wear and tear on tracks, but meet all present and future safety standards. They must also have the flexibility to operate on inter-urban and commuter routes as well as long-distance journeys. They must also be adaptable enough for different train operators to fit them out according to their needs.