Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris has called on train manufacturer Hitachi to set out a safety inspection plan and long-term repair strategy for its faulty Class 800 trains, following a weekend of disruption on the railways (8th and 9th May).
A 'significant number' of high speed LNER and TransPennine Express trains had to be taken off the rail network over the weekend to undergo inspection, following the discovery of cracks on parts of the chassis of some Class 800 Hitachi trains. The vast majority of GWR’s fleet, which operates between Bristol and London Paddington, was also affected. Mr Heaton-Harris has now warned passengers that disruption is expected to 'continue for some time'. He has requested a comprehensive plan from Hitachi to identify the extent of the cracking and whether carriages can still run safely with them. Hitachi will also be expected to set out a comprehensive inspection regime guaranteeing that safety is prioritised. The independent safety regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), will oversee the work. The rail industry, meanwhile, has 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 should be brought into service as safely and quickly as possible, Mr Heaton-Harris said. 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. Mr 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.” The Government has also commissioned Hitachi to present an initial assessment of when they expect problems to be resolved.
According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, Ministers are now demanding that Hitachi picks up the multi-million pound bill for passenger compensation after some of Britain's busiest lines have been hit by mass cancellation. Passengers have now had to endure a third day (11 May) of disruption on intercity services to the north, north-east, Wales, west and south-west. LNER have managed to pull back into service two Intercity 225 trains for the east coast mainline.
Ministers have said that the Agility consortium which owns the trains, led by Hitachi must "fully compensate the taxpayer."
Following the termination of rail franchising, the bill for compensation would fall upon the taxpayer. However, a spokesperson for DfT said, "We expect those who have the contractual performance and train availability obligations to fully compensate the taxpayer/travellers. We are currently assessing options to ensure that taxpayers do not bear the burden."
Contractual terms mean that operators do not have to pay for trains when they are not in service, leaving Hitachi facing huge losses as they own a 70% stake in Agility. Annual revenues from leasing the trains to operators, which pass the costs on to the government are around £700 million per year.
Both GWR and LNER have told travellers that they will not have to pay a £10 admin charge when claiming booking refunds.
LNER has warned its passengers that the cancellations and delays would last for a number of weeks. It announced 22 cancellation of services to and from Kings Cros and that it would only be operating a temporary timetable until the end of the week.
GWR announced that it has little or no services running from Paddington to Bristol, Cardiff, Plyouth, Hereford and Cheltenham.
The early findings are that the cracks which have appeared are in the aluminium blocks used by engineers to raise and lower the units during maintenance