London Tilbury Southend, which runs commuter services between London and Essex, placed a 44-train order with Derby-based Adtranz. LTS, taken over by Prism last year, had been dubbed Britain's "misery line" by passengers forced to use the company's creaking 30-year-old slam-door carriages.
The new 100mph sliding-door trains are superior to the older carriages. Equipped with air conditioning and wider seats, they have electronic information boards in every carriage. They should be in service by 1999 and managers predict that they will cut journey times by 10 per cent.
"The new trains will offer a vast improvement for passengers and are of the very latest design," said Bob Howells, LTS chairman.
The privatisation of British Rail saw a collapse in the train-building market. In the five years before its sale, BR bought more than 400 carriages a year, whereas privatisation has seen only 12 new carriages ordered by a private operator - Chiltern.
"This is great news for our company and we hope it will signal the start of a new rail revolution in the UK and growth in the industry," said Stig Svard, the company's UK chief executive. A company spokeswoman said the order "was likely to lead to new jobs".
The company had as many as 6,000 employees in the late 1980s. But with orders drying up, numbers at Derby have dwindled to about 1,000.
Private firms have promised much, but delivered little, in return for the chance to run the nation's train set. National Express, which operates Gatwick Express franchise, is poised to buy eight new trains and French firm Connex is also set to invest in more than 100 trains for its Kent commuter services.
Sir George Young, the Secretary of State for Transport, said: "This is good news for British industry and is further evidence of the benefits which rail privatisation is bringing to rail passengers."Reuse content