HITACHI is continuing to work alongside Britain’s independent regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) to ensure long-distance fleets operated by Great Western Railway (GWR) and London North Eastern Railway (LNER) are safe to return to passenger service.

Cracks in the lifting points, blocks of aluminium situated beneath the coach used to lift trains when in the depot, in class 800 trains prompted the withdrawal of the entire class 800, 801 and 802 fleets built by Hitachi - a total of 182 trains - operated by GWR, LNER, TransPennine Express (TPE) and Hull Trains for inspection on May 8. While not used during operation, according to a statement from the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), there is a small risk that the blocks could become dislodged.

While all trains operated by TPE and Hull Trains have returned to operation enabling these operators to provide a full service, GWR and LNER continue to face major disruption.

Just three of the 93 trains operated by GWR - five-car class 800 bi-modes - were ready for service on May 10. All GWR long-distance trains between London Paddington, Swindon, Bath Spa and Bristol Temple Meads, which usually operate at half-hourly intervals, are cancelled. CrossCountry is providing a temporary shuttle service between Swindon and Bristol Temple Meads. At Swindon, passengers can change to trains to Didcot Parkway and Reading, where connections to London Paddington are available. In addition, hourly shuttles are available between Newport and Reading.

All London Paddington - Reading - Taunton - Exeter - Plymouth - Penzance services have been withdrawn. Some trains are operating between Plymouth and Penzance in addition to local services, which continue to operate as normal across the GWR network.

LNER is reporting less disruptions but with only 34 of its 65 Azuma trains available - four five-car class 800 bi modes, seven five-car class 801/1 EMUs, and 23 nine-car class 801/2 EMUs - it is operating three quarters of its usual timetable on London King’s Cross - Edinburgh services.

LNER confirmed that the timetable will remain in place until May 14, and that an InterCity 225 train will be reintroduced to service on May 11 ahead of a planned reintroduction in June. LNER said that class 800s will return to operation "as soon as possible" after checks have taken place. A second 225 could also be added to boost its fleet with RDG stating that operators are working to lend each other trains.

Safety inspection plan

Rail minister, Mr Chris Heaton-Harris, requested on May 9 that Hitachi set out a comprehensive safety inspection plan for the class 800 electric and bi-mode trains to identify the extent of the issue and whether rolling stock can still operate safely. Hitachi is also expected to set out a comprehensive inspection regime guaranteeing that safety is prioritised, building on the work that is already underway. ORR is closely involved in overseeing this work.

A Hitachi spokesman told IRJ that the manufacturer is taking a “safety first” approach to the inspections, all of which have to be signed off by ORR.

“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,” the company said in a statement.

The spokesman refused to speculate on how quickly the trains will return to service but emphasised that this will happen when it is safe to do so, and that work is underway to identify remedial work for trains with more serious issues. GWR was the first operator to receive the class 800s and its older sets appear to be the worst-affected but it is taking time to assess the condition of the entire fleet, limiting the number in service. Once approved safe for operation, Hitachi will continue to inspect the trains on a daily basis.

GWR operates 57 class 800 bi-mode sets, comprising 36 five-car trains, which typically run in multiple, and 21 nine-car trains, which were the first to enter service in October 2017. The operator also has 22 five-car and 14 nine-car class 802 bi-modes. LNER operates 13 nine-car and 10 five-car class 800 bi-modes as well as 30 nine-car class 801 EMUs and 12 five-car class 801 EMUs. TPE has 19 five-car class 802 bi-modes while Hull Trains has five five-car 802s.