United Kingdom

Chaos on trains could derail Bank Holiday weekend plans

The chaos on two of Britain's busiest railways is threatening to wreck May Bank Holiday plans.

Cross-country services were brought to a near-standstill for a fourth day yesterday and rail users were warned not to travel again today.

Insiders said the fiasco could easily drag on for several more weeks, potentially derailing mini-breaks and day trips planned by thousands for the Bank Holiday at the end of the month.

Chaos was sparked after cracks were found under some of Hitatchi Rail's trains, which it leases to the rail operating firms.

A total of 182 Class 800 trains were taken out of service – including 93 on Great Western Railway, which runs to beauty spots in the South West, and 65 on London North Eastern Railways, which serves the East Midlands, the North and Scotland.

 Cross-country services were brought to a near-standstill for a fourth day yesterday and rail users were warned not to travel again today [Stock photo]

An announcement is expected today on whether any of the trains can be returned to service.

Last night it emerged ministers are demanding that Hitachi picks up the multi-million-pound passenger compensation bill so that taxpayers are not lumbered with it.

Ministers have bailed out the railways since the start of the pandemic, meaning taxpayers – not rail operators – could be on the hook for the refunds. Thousands are in line to claim and the bill could be as high as £2million a day.

The Government said Agility Trains, a consortium led by Hitachi, would have to 'fully compensate the taxpayer'.

The cracks in the trains' yaw dampers - the area where the suspension system attaches to the body - that led to the disruption were detected on May 8 during an inspection of a train at GWR's Stoke Gifford depot near Bristol

Ministers have been bailing out the railways since the start of the pandemic, meaning taxpayers could be on the hook for the refunds due to affected customers.

But last night a Government spokesman said: 'We expect those who have the contractual performance and train availability obligations, including Agility Trains, to fully compensate the taxpayer.

'We are currently assessing options to ensure taxpayers do not bear the burden.'

Thousands of passengers are in line to claim refunds and the compensation bill may be as high as £2million a day.

Hundreds of services have been cancelled since the cracks were discovered on some trains during tests in the early hours of Saturday.

They were found on the chassis area of Hitachi Class 800 series trains. Hitachi has repeatedly refused to say how many have been found to have cracks.

It comes after rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris ordered the rail operators involved to 'urgently set out a comprehensive plan' to end the disruption. It is believed that plan could receive a final sign-off on Wednesday.

A Hitachi Rail spokesman said: 'We continue to engage round the clock with the ORR, operators and industry experts to finalise the service recovery plan for the Class 800 and Class 385 trains currently not in service.

'We want to reassure passengers who are planning to travel on Class 800 or Class 385 trains that they will only operate once they have completed the appropriate precautionary safety assessments.

'Our investigations have given us a thorough understanding of the issue and we are making progress with our partners to return trains to service safely.

'We continue to thank passengers for their patience and apologise for any disruption caused.'

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