Some of Britain’s busiest rail lines are facing the prospect of a “prolonged period” of disruption after cracks were found on some high speed trains, the government has warned.
More than 150 trains built by Japan’s Hitachi were taken out of service for checks on Saturday, causing severe disruption through the weekend on key train services including between London and the west of England and Scotland.
London North East Railway and Great Western Railway, two of the UK’s most popular train franchises, were advising passengers not to travel on Sunday.
Hitachi said routine inspections had found cracks underneath the carriages of some of its Class 800 trains, which were pulled from service for engineers to inspect them.
While some trains have been restored to service, “disruption is likely for a prolonged period”, said rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris on Saturday.
“Trains will be returned to service as quickly as possible once they are fully approved by the manufacturer,” he added.
A total of 183 trains were taken out of service and disruption is expected for a “few days”, said Robert Nisbet, an executive at the Rail Delivery Group, a trade body that represents the companies which operate the UK’s trains. He was speaking to the BBC on Sunday.
The Class 800 trains, which are mainly electric but can run on diesel, have become the backbone of many of the UK’s long distance rail lines over the past five years.
The disruption is a blow to Hitachi’s rail business, which manufactured the class 800 trains in County Durham.
The Japanese conglomerate apologised to passengers and operators of its trains and said some had been cleared to resume services.
“We are working as quickly and safely as possible to investigate the issue across the remainder of the fleet,” it added.
The disruption comes as people have begun to use the railways in much greater numbers as coronavirus lockdown restrictions ease across the UK.
Passenger numbers have consistently hit more than 30 per cent of normal levels over the past few weeks, after collapsing to as low as 5 per cent last year.
Ministers have spent more than £10bn bailing out the train network over the past year, and are finalising plans for significant reform including replacing the rail franchise model with a new system where operators will be paid a fixed fee for running services.
The Campaign for Better Transport, a passenger lobby group, said the disruption this weekend “shows how vital a smooth running rail network is in keeping the country moving”.
“The issue with these trains must be urgently addressed, along with other barriers to people returning to the railways, including introducing more flexible season tickets,” it added.