A number of recommendations have been made for the rail industry after cracks were found in high speed trains which caused widespread disruption to services last year. A number of rail companies, including GWR, were forced to withdraw trains from service due to the safety concerns.

The issue affected Hitachi Rail’s Class 800 trains, which were in operation on a number of routes across the country including those to and from Cornwall run by GWR. Cracks were found in the bodyshell of some trains in May 2021 which led to them being removed from service whilst checks were made to ensure they were safe.

Now the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has published its findings after reviewing the incident and has made a number of recommendations to the rail industry as a whole. It found that the cracking identified had been caused by trains experiencing greater loads from train movement than was allowed in the original design.

When the original cracks were found there were stringent tests carried out, overseen by the ORR, to ensure that the trains were safe for use. They were put back into service just days after it was assured that passenger safety would not be compromised.

ORR’s review concluded that on the vehicle body in the area above the wheels close to the yaw damper bracket and anti-roll bar fixing points, fatigue cracking was caused by the trains experiencing greater loads from train movement than allowed for in the original design. It is not yet known for certain why this happened, although potential factors include wheel wear and track design.

In its recommendations the ORR said:

  • The industry should conduct further work to identify the reasons for the higher levels of fatigue loading experienced by rolling stock
  • Hitachi Rail should carry out a formal review of the effectiveness of their processes for welding when the component geometry is more challenging
  • Designers of rolling stock should understand the risk posed by stress corrosion cracking and give it specific consideration when proposing the use of 7000 series aluminium components
  • The industry should develop a process for responding to similar future cross-industry crisis events and appoint a strong, independent chair who can maintain pace, focus and ensure all voices are heard

ORR is also working with Hitachi Rail to find a permanent solution to the issue with the company planning to replace the affected areas of the body of the trains and carry out further improvements to the trains. The changes will be made over the next six years to minimise the disruption which could be caused.

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.”