UK rail disruption to continue as engineers check trains for cracks

Passengers on Britain’s intercity rail services face a third day of disruption as engineers continued to check high-speed trains for cracks.

Trains between London and the south-west and between London and Scotland on the East Coast line are affected.

Great Western Railway 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.

London North Eastern Railway (LNER) has had much of its fleet passed safe by engineers but is running a reduced service between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh, via York and Newcastle.

The high-speed trains, all built by Hitachi within the last seven years, were taken out of service on Saturday after 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.

Operators and Hitachi said they could not yet put a time on how long the disruption would last, but a GWR spokesman indicated the problem was unlikely to be resolved imminently, with some trains requiring repair. GWR said the majority of its services were local trains and continued to run as normal.

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.”

Robert Nisbet, a director at industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said replacement trains might be deployed. He told the BBC the cracks discovered so far “didn’t pose any particular danger to passengers” but “have the potential to develop” if left untreated.

The government has called on the rail industry to “urgently set out a comprehensive plan” to ensure services can resume as soon as possible.

The rail minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, has asked Hitachi to explain whether the trains can still run safely pending full repair, and urged the industry and operators to manage capacity by using alternative rolling stock on the affected routes, and providing full replacement services, whether by train or bus.

He added: “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 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.

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