A MAJOR employer in Chard is celebrating the completion of the first phase of a £1.2million contract with Hitachi Rail Europe.

Railway electrification specialists Brecknell Willis won what is one of its largest ‘current collector’ orders, for 184 pantographs, last year.

The pantographs, which are attached to the top of trains and collect electrical current from overhead wires, are destined to be fitted to the electric Class 800 Series trains replacing the

Intercity 125 and 225 fleets running on the newly-electrified Great Western Line and the East Coast Main Line services in 2017.

This particular model has been designed to operate at speeds of up to 140mph.

Representatives from Hitachi visited Brecknell Willis to see a finished pantograph before it is shipped to Japan for installation and testing on the Class 800 Series trains.

Speaking during the visit, the procurement director of Hitachi Rail Europe, Jamie Foster, said: “Today we are seeing a significant piece of equipment, the first pantographs ready for despatch to Japan, where our team of engineers will install them on the pre-series trains for the UK.

“It is a great day to celebrate the next phase in the train manufacture for the Intercity Express Programme and shows that the programme is on schedule.

“We have collaborated very closely with the team at Brecknell Willis and are looking forward to working with them in the long run.”

Brecknell Willis, based in the Jocelyn area of town, employs 220 people, who will be kept busy with the ongoing contract.

Managing director Richard Whitefield said: “We are delighted to work with Hitachi on this exciting and prestigious project.

“We are currently building a new manufacturing facility to ensure that we have the capacity to move into the future and this is planned to be complete later this year.”