Rail passengers are facing “significant” disruption across the network as a number of high-speed trains undergo precautionary checks after cracks were found.
Great Western Railway (GWR), Hull Trains, London North Eastern Railway (LNER) and TransPennine Express (TPE) trains of the Hitachi 800 model were taken out of service for “safety checks as a precautionary measure” on Saturday morning.
Hull Trains said that by 1.30pm on Saturday its normal services had resumed, but GWR, which operates 93 Hitachi 800 trains, warned that the problem could affect Sunday services as well.
Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said routine checks on Saturday morning revealed cracks in the chassis – the base frame – of the trains, and that some trains have been reintroduced to the rails after being approved in checks by Hitachi.
He said: “Safety is always our absolute priority, so these trains have been taken off the network to undergo full and rigorous checks…
“Whilst some trains are starting to be reintroduced, disruption is likely for a prolonged period, particularly on GWR.
“I share the frustration of passengers who are experiencing significant disruption, and would ask people whose journeys are affected to check before travelling.”
Mr Heaton-Harris said he has asked operators to deploy extra staff to help passengers complete their journeys and access refunds, and for unaffected providers to help provide alternative routes.
He added: “We have also asked the industry to conduct a rapid and comprehensive review to resolve the issue.”
Hitachi Rail has apologised for the disruption caused.
A spokesman said: “We are working with all partners to resolve this issue as quickly and safely as possible.
“We would like to offer our sincerest apologies to passengers for the impact this may be causing for their travel plans.”
The non-ministerial Government department responsible for regulating Britain’s railways, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), has also said it is working to get trains back into service “as soon as safely possible” following widespread disruption.
GWR said cracks were detected on “more than one” Hitachi 800 train, so all 93 Hitachi 800s in their fleet are being inspected as a “precaution”.
The company added that “roughly 10” of the Hitachi 800s are now back in service after being inspected and found to be safe.
A spokesman said: “There’s a crack that’s been spotted and as a result of that – as a precaution – we’re checking all the trains, and while that’s taking place it’s better that they’re not used.
“It’s been found in more than one train, but we don’t know exactly how many trains because the fleet is still being inspected.”
Asked how long the disruption will last, the GWR spokesman said: “It’s a question of how quickly the trains can be inspected – it’s highly likely that it will certainly persist through to the end of today.
“Once more inspection has been carried out we’ll have a better understanding as to whether that disruption is going to continue into tomorrow.”
The spokesman added that the issue is affecting long-distance journeys between cities, which are being refunded, but that suburban and rural GWR services are still running as normal.
Meanwhile, all LNER services between Edinburgh, Newcastle, York and London have been disrupted and the provider has advised customers not to travel.
LNER tweeted: “Once trains have been checked, they will be released back into service as soon as possible. Please check before travel.”
Hull Trains said its services resumed at around 1.30pm on Saturday after half a day of cancellations.
A spokesman said: “We are pleased to confirm that, following thorough checks by Hitachi on the Hull Trains fleet of Class 800 series trains, services will now resume as normal.
“Due to the significant disruption that has taken place we expect our services to be extremely busy and we cannot guarantee that social distancing guidelines will be adhered to.
“All passengers must wear a face covering.
“Those customers who were booked on cancelled services today can receive a full refund without any fees by applying through our website.
“We would like to apologise to all passengers for the impact this may have caused.”
TPE said its Nova 1 trains had been affected by the issue and are being checked.
In a statement, a TPE spokesman said: “This problem is being investigated by the train manufacturer and, once trains have been checked, we hope to be able to release them back into service as soon as possible.
“This will affect a significant number of services on our Newcastle to Liverpool route and we are advising customers not to travel on this route today.”
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: “RMT is fully aware of the issues that have led to the cancellation of services on LNER today and that similar problems with cracks appearing in the fleet on Great Western are also emerging.
“Hitachi needs to ensure the highest safety standards and properly investigate and rectify the issues.”
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said passengers should not be charged extra in future to pay for repairs.
“It’s welcome news that railway engineering staff have found these cracks before they led to an accident,” he said.
“This rolling stock must not be allowed back into service until we are 100% certain these trains are safe.
“It’s important to point out that the affected trains are relatively new, in which case the manufacturers should foot the bill for any repairs, not passengers or taxpayers.”