Cracks were discovered in electric and electro-diesel trains constructed by Hitachi Rail for several operators, causing mass cancellations and major delays for many over the weekend.
Great Western Railway one of the main operators effected, has advised passengers on long-distance trains not to travel on Monday due to an extremely limited service between London Paddington, Swansea, Bristol and Penzance.
Cracks were found in the chassis of some vehicles – the second such problem to be discovered in the Class 800 trains in recent weeks. All intercity services on GWR and LNER were suspended, although a limited number of trains starting running later in the day.
Only around 10% of Great Western Railway's long-distance services ran on Sunday, with a similar service expected today.
A Hitachi Rail spokesperson said cracks had “been identified on the lifting points under the carriage of some Class 800 trains”.
He said: “Safety is our number one priority and as a precaution this continues to impact the number of trains that can run in service. Our teams continue to work day and night with the ORR [Office of Rail and Road], operators and independent experts. We thank passengers for their ongoing patience.”
Chris Heaton-Harris, Transport Minister, said: "Today 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."
Robert Nisbet, Regional Director for the Rail Delivery Group which represents train operators and Network Rail, also apologised for the disruption.
When asked if he knew how long the disruption was likely to last, Mr Nisbet told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “No, I can’t put an exact time on it and that is purely because we are going through the process and taking it extremely seriously.
“If some of these trains that are being inspected for these tiny cracks are found to have them, then obviously those cracks need to be treated, in which case replacement trains may need to be brought in to fill those places on the timetable.”
Mr Nisbet said the ongoing disruption was “disappointing” as passengers had started to return to using the train network following coronavirus restrictions.
He said: “These trains are relatively new in service, so this is something that the Hitachi engineers will be looking at and reporting back to the train operating companies.
“For us, as an industry, it’s disappointing and it’s dispiriting in a way to have this happen, because we were just starting to see passengers come back onto the network after a very difficult pandemic for the whole transport sector.”
The fleets for GWR and LNER were commissioned by the government in a controversial £5.7bn procurement from Hitachi, and many of the trains were assembled in a new factory in Newton Aycliffe in north-east England. The discovery of cracks in the chassis follow on from problems with cracks in another part, affecting the suspension, on GWR trains last month.
GWR passengers can use their tickets on the following services:
- Avanti West Coast trains between Birmingham New Street and London Euston
- London Northwestern Railway trains between Birmingham New Street and London Euston
- West Midlands Railway trains between Hereford/Worcester and Birmingham New Street
- Chiltern Railways via any "reasonable" route
- CrossCountry via any "reasonable" rout
LNER passengers affected by cancellations can use their tickets on the following operators' services instead:
- ScotRail between Aberdeen and Edinburgh
- Avanti West Coast between London Euston and Manchester for customers with an open ticket
- TransPennine Express between Manchester, Leeds and York
- East Midlands Railway between London St Pancras International and Sheffield
- Northern services between Sheffield, Leeds and York and via any other "reasonable" route
- Thameslink services between London, Stevenage and Peterborough
- CrossCountry between Leeds, York and Edinburgh