More than 100 businesses from across the North East heard how they could tap into the billion pound rail sector at a sell-out conference.

Business Durham, together with the Rail Alliance and the County Durham Engineering and Manufacturing Network, held the event at Durham Cricket Club, in Chester Le Street, to help companies take advantage of the burgeoning rail sector.

Delegates heard from a range of speakers, including Robert Hopkin, executive director of the Rail Alliance and Michael Noakes of the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy who highlighted the £100 billion of investment the UK Government has committed to invest in the sector by 2020.  He told the conference that with the North East’s record of engineering and innovation, many companies in the region were placed to provide the goods and services needed.

Representatives of Hitachi Rail Europe were also among the speakers who shared the company’s experience of developing a new supply chain in the North East since Hitachi opened its flagship multimillion-pound plant in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, in 2015.

Craig Hartley, senior category manager at Hitachi Rail said: “It was fantastic to see so many businesses from the region coming together to talk about the growing rail industry in the North East. We’re proud to be building the next generation of rolling stock in the region and continuing to increase our local supplier network.”

Graeme Parkins of Dyer Engineering, based in Stanley, County Durham, gave an overview about how the company has targeted segments of the rail sector, developed a suite of products which matched their engineering capabilities and invested heavily in the sector.

Businesses also heard about planned investments in the sector including track and station improvement and new carriages, nationally significant projects such as HS2 and CrossRail and investments closer to home such as Nexus in the Tyneside Metro system.

According to the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train companies and Network Rail, the UK’s rail industry and its supply chain contribute up to 10.4bn in GVA per year and employs more than 240,000 people.

Simon Goon, managing director of Business Durham, said: “There are a myriad of opportunities in the rail sector for companies in the North East so it’s been of huge value to them to hear what hiring businesses are looking for and from those which are part of the ever increasing supply chain.”

Lucy Prior, membership development and international trade director with the Rail Alliance, said: “We recognise, as does the industry at large, that in terms of regional and sectoral capabilities, the North East has so much to offer. Opportunities represented by Hitachi and the IEP project, Nexus, the Great North Rail Project, Transport for the North, and many more, are huge and very exciting, but also complex and challenging. Events such as these help companies network, collaborate, innovate and thrive.”

Ben Gilhespy, director of operations with the County Durham and Engineering Manufacturing Network, said: “We see rail as a genuine opportunity for local businesses to explore new sources of revenue using both existing technologies and new initiatives. We’ll be working with the Rail Alliance and Business Durham to identify potential suppliers on upcoming supply chain projects, and also spot those businesses which have a real opportunity to spread their wings into this new and exciting sector where an opportunity may not have been before.”

Finally delegates heard about the export opportunities in the sector and the support available for companies who want to export their products from speakers including the Department for International Trade, North East England Chamber of Commerce and UK Export.