The UK government has ordered Hitachi to urgently set out a comprehensive safety inspection plan and a longer-term repair strategy following the discovery of hairline cracks in several of the company’s Class 800 Series high-speed trains.
The vast majority of GWR’s fleet and a significant number of LNER and TransPennine Express trains were taken off the network at the weekend to undergo a full and rigorous inspection, after checks of the Hitachi fleet early on Saturday morning (8/5/21) first identified cracks on part of the chassis of some trains.
The cracks were found in the lifting points under the carriage – a new issue, after cracks were found in brackets linked to the suspension in GWR trains that were taken out of service in recent weeks.
All intercity trains on Great Western Railway and London North Eastern Railway were suspended on Saturday morning, as their entire fleets of Hitachi trains were taken out of service for safety inspections.
Hull Trains and TransPennine Express, which also use similar Hitachi models, were disrupted, although their trains were being released back into service after inspection. About half of LNER trains had been passed fit by late Saturday afternoon.
Rail passengers have been warned that disruption is expected to continue for some time and, to combat the expected continued delays, rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris has requested a comprehensive plan from Hitachi to identify the extent of the cracking and whether carriages can still run safely with them.
To support this, Hitachi will also be expected to set out a comprehensive inspection regime guaranteeing that safety is prioritised, building on the work that is already underway. The independent safety regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), will be closely involved in overseeing this work, while also helping to ensure any issues are rapidly resolved.
The rail industry has also been asked to set out a plan for how it will manage capacity, by moving rolling stock and proposing where alternative trains can be sourced. These will be brought into service as safely and quickly as possible.
The industry has also been asked to deliver a clear rail replacement schedule, including additional bus and coach services that will be in place to help alleviate disruption.
Rail minister Chris Heaton Harris said: “I have directed the rail industry to urgently set out a comprehensive plan to ensure services can safely resume as soon as possible. I expect operators to explore all options for replacement services to help people complete their journeys, and have asked Hitachi for a safety inspection plan, as well as longer term repair strategy.
“Our focus is to ensure trains are returned to service as quickly as possible, once they are fully approved as safe. Only then can we start to rebuild a reliable and punctual timetable for passengers. I also want to thank passengers for their patience during what could be a significant period of prolonged disruption, likely to continue for some time.”
Hitachi said the problem on its Class 800 trains, which were commissioned by the government for GWR and the East Coast LNER services for £5.7bn, was still under investigation.
A Hitachi Rail spokesperson said: “Inspection has identified cracks on the lifting points under the carriage of some Class 800 trains. Safety is our number one priority and as a precaution this continues to impact the number of trains that can run in service. We acknowledge the government’s clear direction regarding the forward repair plan, and our teams continue to work day and night with the ORR, operators and independent experts. We thank passengers for their ongoing patience.”
The Class 800 is electric - but almost half have a diesel engine enabling them to operate on lines that have not been electrified. Formal orders for the trains were made in 2012 and 2013 at a cost of around £5.7bn for a 27.5 year programme, including maintenance.
The trains were assembled at Hitachi's plant in Newton Aycliffe in County Durham.