Jacking point cracks prompt mass withdrawal from service
Repair of all Hitachi 800 Series trains affected by an issue with underframe cracks is expected to take at least 18 months, it was reported as Modern Railways went to press.
Hitachi withdrew the entire Class 800, 801 and 802 Intercity Express Train (IET) fleets operated by Great Western Railway, Hull Trains, LNER and TransPennine Express overnight on 7/8 May after severe cracks were discovered in jacking points. Ten Hitachi-built ScotRail Class 385 EMUs were also withdrawn after cracks were found in the same component. The issue followed the discovery of cracks in yaw damper mountings on some of GWR’s Intercity Express Train (IET) Class 800/802 fleet during April, prior to the discovery of the jacking point issues.
All Class 80x operators were forced to suspend services using the trains, with very few long-distance services running for GWR and LNER over the weekend of 8-9 May, and TPE forced to amend its timetable. The Hull Trains units resumed operation on 8 May. A reduced LNER service operated throughout the following week, with no services north of Edinburgh, although these were expected to be restored in mid-May.
GWR was operating a skeleton service on long-distance routes, supported by hourly CrossCountry services between Swindon and Bristol, and Class 387s were rapidly cleared to run in passenger service as far west as Swindon with DMUs filling in elsewhere.
The Office of Rail and Road told operators the decision to return trains to service was theirs and provided rigorous oversight to ensure plans that were developed were safe and suitable - and also to make sure the right checks were being carried out so trains could re-enter passenger service safely. On 13 May Hitachi announced that some trains would be able to return to service on GWR and LNER. ‘Based on the work undertaken to understand the issue, and after extensive engagement, Hitachi Rail and train operators, working with the rail regulator, have put in place suitable criteria for the trains to meet before they can re-enter service’ a statement said.
GWR expected to reintroduce a significant number of IETs by 17 May to operate close to its full planned timetable, albeit making use of stock drafted in from other operators and with some services short-formed at five-car length instead of 10-car. This timetable was expected to include half-hourly services from London to Bristol and South Wales, and hourly to Plymouth, the South Cotswolds and North Cotswolds.
The IET sets returning to service with GWR were to have three checks carried out every day, covering the lift pockets and yaw damper brackets; all three checks were required to be passed every 24 hours for a set to remain in service.
As of mid-May, further sets were still being x-rayed amid concern that paint defects may be hiding cracks underneath. Engineers confirmed the rectification programme will take at least 18 months and the maximum number of sets available throughout will be in the region of 70; from its 93 Class 800/802 sets, GWR has 85 diagrams to cover on an average day.
To help cover the shortfall, three Class 387s transferred on loan to GWR from c2c, and after replacement of pantograph heads and a software update were due to be available to provide additional Thames Valley capacity. As we went to press it is understood GWR was looking to make ‘387s’ available to operate services to Bristol Parkway and Cardiff to cover for shortfalls in IET availability, while ‘387s’ were also due to work services to Newbury with a connecting DMU shuttle to Bedwyn. The retention by Govia Thameslink Railway of its Class 365 EMUs on Great Northern services to allow Class 387s to move temporarily to GWR was another possibility; the ‘365s’ were due to be withdrawn at the May timetable change.
In other contingency moves, a set of former East Midlands Railway Mk 3 coaches owned by Locomotive Services Ltd was transferred from Crewe to Plymouth Laira depot on 10 May, although at the time of writing its planned usage was unclear. A Riviera Trains rake of Mk 2s top-and-tailed by Class 67s was also a possibility to strengthen services – as was the loan of three TransPennine Express Class 802s. LNER, meanwhile, reinstated stored Class 91s and Mk 4 coaches into traffic earlier than planned; it had intended to reintroduce the sets following the conclusion of remodelling work at King's Cross in early June.