Cracks in trains partly due to use of material that can’t even stand ‘salty air’ – report

Great Western Railway announces disruption to service

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Services were left heavily disrupted after trains were withdrawn when cracks were found above the wheels of Hitachi-built Class 800 trains in May 2021. The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has concluded these cracks were triggered by the rolling stock experiencing more movement than allowed in original designs. The report admits it isn’t clear why this occurred but possible factors include wheel wear – which is when the shape of wheels changes during use – as well as track design.

But the ORR also found that cracks on lifting points – which enable the train’s carriages to be raised during maintenance work – came from the use of a certain type of aluminium which was corroded by salt in the air.

Part of the report said: “Additional cracks found in the area where the lifting plates attach to the vehicle body were the result of stress corrosion cracking (SCC), resulting from the use of the particular type of 7000 series aluminium in various areas of the Hitachi Rail Class 800 series.

“The characteristics of the specific aluminium alloy in combination with built-in stresses from being welded to the body and exposure to air containing chloride resulted in cracking.”

Affected operators were Great Western Railway, London North Eastern Railway, TransPennine Express and Hull Trains.

No safety failures have been reported following the disruption in May 2020.

The ORR’s HM chief inspector of railways Ian Prosser CBE said: “With our oversight, Hitachi Rail and operators have put in place robust plans to make sure the right safety issues are being managed following the initial discovery of cracks on the trains, which have allowed trains to re-enter service.

“Safety remains the number one priority. Our review provides a clearer picture of the issue and we will continue our oversight to ensure work moves forward to agree the permanent solution and our recommendations are acted on.

“It is important that the whole industry works together to learn lessons from what has happened and our recommendations will help with that.”

The ORR wants the UK’s rail industry to work together to evaluate whether standards for train design, manufacture and maintenance take into account pressures created by train movement.

The body has also urged Hitachi to conduct a formal review of its welding processes, while also calling for train designers to consider how to ensure protection of structures when the aluminium components affected by salt air are used.

Hitachi, along with its partners, are set to launch a major programme of work to repair Class 800 trains that could take place over the next six years to minimise the number of trains taken out of service at any one time.

A Hitachi Rail spokesman said: “The ORR’s report identifies that all Hitachi trains meet relevant standards and that we took the appropriate action to prioritise safety and maintain train availability.

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“The report also provides a detailed account of the tireless work to simultaneously keep trains running safely while working towards the long-term solutions.

“The proposed engineering solutions outlined in the report are currently being reviewed by all partners.

“We are working together to finalise the plan for their implementation, while always prioritising safety and train availability to support consistent passenger services.”

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