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A significant number of train services were cancelled over the weekend of May 8-9 after cracks were discovered in electric and electro-diesel trains constructed by Hitachi Rail for several operators.
Cracks have been found close to the jacking points on various Hitachi-built trainsets.
Safety checks were carried out on all 182 inter-city trainsets of classes Classes 800, 801 and 802 after discovery of the cracks around the jacking points on the aluminium bodyshells. The first examples were found on GWR sets during detailed examinations being undertaken in the wake of cracks being found on the yaw damper mountings on a small number of trains earlier in the month.
The situation developed rapidly after 04.00 on May 8, with signallers and station staff instructed not to dispatch services. By 04.20 a message had gone out stating ‘Hitachi suspended both LNER and GWR fleets due to severe cracks found on welds on the jacking points on an 80x unit at Stoke Gifford. No 80x units will leave depot or stations until inspected’. TransPennine Express and Hull Trains also stopped all of their Hitachi-built trains for checks.
Hitachi issued a statement confirming that ‘some Class 800s have been taken out of passenger service as a precautionary measure to allow for thorough investigations. We are working with partners to resolve this issue as quickly and safely as possible.’
Four of the 19 Class 802s operated by TransPennine Express were taken out of traffic.
A later update explained that ‘safety is our number one priority and as a precaution, the decision was taken to halt the entry into service of our inter-city fleets pending inspection. We understand the frustration caused and we would like to apologise for the inconvenience caused to passengers and operators. Having been cleared for service, some trains are now running again across the network.’
Whilst some sets were passed to enter service it rapidly became clear that a large number of cracks had been identified. By the end of the day 80 out of 182 units had been taken out of service, with some still to be inspected. This included 11 sets at LNER, 68 sets at GWR and one at TPE. The Hull Trains units were reportedly all cleared for service.
On the morning of May 9, the number of TPE sets stopped had risen to four, while 75 sets had failed inspections at GWR and 20 at LNER. During the day, the 70 Hitachi-built Class 385s EMUs at ScotRail were also inspected, and by the morning of May 10 cracks had been confirmed on 10 units.
LNER is reported to have found fewer problems with its electric Class 801 variants.
Rail Business UK understands that LNER has found fewer defects with its Class 801 electric trainsets, whereas all other Class 80Xs are electro-diesel units. On May 9, the operator had 27 of its Class 801 sets available to cover 30 diagrams, but only six bi-mode sets to cover 16 diagrams. On May 10 GWR reportedly had just three of its 93 sets available for traffic.
Insiders report that the initial concern was that the cracking could lead to components detaching at speed and posing a danger to anyone near the tracks or on a station, suggesting that this was behind the hasty call to stop all trains from running.
The Class 800 and 801 trainsets were procured by the Department for Transport under finance-supply-maintain contracts with the Agility Trains Consortium of Hitachi Rail Europe (70%), John Laing Investments (24%), and MetLife Private Capital Investors (6%), valued at around £4·5bn. The Class 802 and 385 units were procured by the operators with train leasing and financing companies, although all the fleets are maintained by Hitachi.
Alternatives studiedWith the cause of the cracking as yet uncertain, operators are unclear whether it may be possible to return some sets to service pending a repair programme. Discussions with other train operators continued through the weekend about options for sourcing alternative rolling stock. CrossCountry operated additional services in the West Country and provided GWR with an HST set for use on May 9. Charter train operators have also presented proposals.
LNER is expected to return to traffic a number of its IC225 trainsets, which had been placed in store pending the end of remodelling work at London Kings Cross in June. GWR introduced an emergency hourly fast shuttle between Paddington and Didcot, using Class 387 EMUs, and is now is working to extend the service as far as Swindon. This will require the provision of guards between Didcot and Swindon, but a rapid training programme was expected to enable some services to start on May 10. CrossCountry will operate a connecting service between Swindon and Bristol.
Complex repairsThe bodyshells for Class 80x trainsets were assembled using a friction stir welding technique, and repairing welds in aluminium is a complex procedure. Any further welding could require all electrical equipment in a vehicle to be disconnected to prevent it being damaged by the high currents involved. In addition, there are only a limited number of facilities available to carry out the work.
It is still to be determined whether the trains will be able operate while a repair programme is prepared and rolled out. The train operators have accepted that even trains currently passed for service are likely to develop cracks eventually, and if a solution is not found quickly the number available for service would continue to fall. Industry insiders expect disruption to continue for some time, although there is some relief that passenger numbers remain low as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.
Investigations have found cracking on nine of ScotRail’s Class 385 EMUs.
Customer supportCommenting on the situation, Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said on May 8 that the trains had ‘been taken off the network to undergo full and rigorous checks’, but would ‘be returned to service as quickly as possible once they are fully approved as safe by the manufacturer’.
‘Whilst some trains are starting to be reintroduced, disruption is likely for a prolonged period, particularly on GWR’, he warned. ‘I share the frustration of passengers who are experiencing significant disruption, and would ask people whose journeys are affected to check before travelling. I’ve asked operators to ensure extra staff are on hand to help people complete their journeys safely, to increase their communications with passengers, and to make information on refunds and compensation clear.
‘I’ve also asked all affected operators — GWR, LNER, Hull Trains and TransPennine Express — to explore all options to ensure they help people complete their journeys. That includes maintaining as many services as possible and providing additional rail replacement services. We are also ensuring ticket acceptances are in place on other operators, who are looking at strengthening their services to provide passengers with alternative ways of completing their journey. We have also asked the industry to conduct a rapid and comprehensive review to resolve the issue.’
This article first appeared on www.railwaygazette.com
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