Posted 2nd March 2016 | 10 Comments

Heathrow Express fleet withdrawn indefinitely

THE premium fare train service to Heathrow Airport will be operated by substitute rolling stock until further notice, after depot staff carrying out routine maintenance on Sunday reportedly discovered a crack in an underframe which the operator has described as a 'structural defect'.

The Class 332 fleet has operated Heathrow Express since the service began in 1998. The units were supplied to BAA after a contract had been agreed with a joint venture between Siemens and CAF, and built by CAF at Zaragoza in Spain. Engineers from both companies have arrived at Old Oak Common depot to help investigate the fault.

The sudden withdrawal of the entire fleet has disrupted airport train services. Parallel Heathrow Connect, which provides a stopping service at lower fares, has been withdrawn so that its Class 360 units can be 'borrowed' for the express services. Some additional GWR trains are running to compensate for the loss of Heathrow Connect between Paddington and Slough, and Connect passengers from Paddington who have already bought tickets can use Express services instead.

Local passengers to the airport are being advised to use Route 140 buses from Hayes & Harlington station, while Connect tickets are also being accepted on the Piccadilly line.

It is too soon to say what the outcome of this emergency action will be, although the situation may well last for some time.

Heathrow Express said: "Following investigation, a fault – a structural defect on the underside of the carriage – was found on some Heathrow Express trains. They have now been taken out of service for the foreseeable future, and will undergo further examination and maintenance work. Passengers can still reach the airport using the Heathrow Express as a 15-minute service is being maintained using alternative trains."

Heathrow Express has apologised for the problem and cut the price of its tickets, partly to reflect the lower standards on board the Class 360s. A single has been reduced from £22 to £17 and returns are also cheaper, at £28.

HEX director Fraser Brown said: “The safety of our customers and colleagues remains our top priority. We apologise for the inconvenience this has caused so far, and assure passengers that we are doing everything we can to return to running a full and safe service, as quickly as possible. We would like to thank all our customers for their patience.”

The problems may even pose a question mark over the future of Heathrow Express, which is set to be challenged by Crossrail in 2018. Heathrow Airport Limited has tried to impose track access charges for the use of its infrastructure, but the Office of Rail and Road has provisionally ruled this out. An industry consultation is underway.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Roger Capel, Sheffield

    The cracked 332 versus 333 issue takes industry insiders back to the cracked 323 mystery in the early 2000s. All Soho's 22 units were deemed cracked & sent to Wolverton for urgent attention. Meanwhile, Longsight's 17 were examined & passed muster, apart from some depot repairs. Scuttlebutt put the difference down to the start-stop-start stop operation on the Birmingham Cross City Line, but I've certainly never heard an official explanation.

  • James palma, London.

    I agree why has the local stopping service which serves tens of thousands of people a day been withdrawn to accomodate a premium service, leaving people like me and others to crush on to already full GWR services? Second, it is obvious that Non londeners do not understand what i as 'a londoner' and MILLIONS of other commuters have to do everyday to get to and from work. That is on trains in London which can be as long As 12 coaches long and still be full.

  • Adam, West London

    The Heathrow Connect isn't used just to get people to and from intermediate stations and the airport, it's also heavily used by local people to travel between communities not served the the tube and Central London.

    In the mornings the train is so crowded that people regularly get left behind on platforms. Now GWR has put on a two-carriage once-hourly service between Paddington and Hayes cutting the frequency in half and capacity by about three quarters.

    Their lack of recognition of the importance that local people place on the service is no surprise at all. The Connect is frequently cancelled if the Express is running late to get the Express back on schedule.

    The sooner the route is taken over by Crossrail the better.

  • claydon william, Norwich, Norfolk

    The bigger question for me is how and why the stopping service can suddenly be withdrawn as if it had never operated ?

    If the stopping service business can be accommodated on beefed up FGW suburban services, then presumably they can be so reasonably accommodated when HEx is running normally ?

    This tells me the stopping service; (as I'd long observed); is just not a sensible use of the GWML slots.

    Much better the Heathrow-Paddington stopping service be permanently cancelled between Acton and Paddington and diverted either to Gatwick via Clapham Jnc/ E.Croydon/ Redhill or even onto MK/ BHX/ Birmingham/ MAN/ Manchester.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    319s would be ideal temporary replacements, but they wouldn't get to Leeds under their own power as unbelievably, in the year 2016 there are no wires between Manchester and West Yorkshire's main city. Each set would have to be pulled by a diesel train. Oh, and there would be just one problem with borrowing the 319s crews in and around the Leeds area don't sign them.

  • Paul, Liverpool

    I would think first of all were the 333's built as ajoint venture with caf of Spain as if not and only built by seimens then they be slightly different and not have the structural cracks as found on 332's
    also Northern have class 319's that they can use due to the electrification works I suppose they would use some 319'sa nd replace there diagrams with 142's or 150's should be interesting but a backward step for Liverpool to Manchester passengers all will be revealed

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    The Class 333s have similar specifications to the Class 332s which run between London Paddington and Heathrow Airport, thus I can see Northern's 333s being taken temporarily off the tracks for testing to be on the safe side. I don't think a proper replacement to run all the services diagrammed for a 333 on the Airedale and Wharfedale Lines would be found. Northern have Class 321s and 322s to call upon for some services, but they don't have enough to cover every 333 diagram in the timetable. It's likely Northern would have to run diesels under the electrified lines for diagrams that can't be covered by a EMU, and even that will be difficult to achieve when Northern's stock is stretched as it is.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    Class 360s aren't an enormous downgrade as they still set high standards, even for units which are over 10 years old. But seeing as they don't have first class compartments, I'd understand the frustration from passengers who have tickets for that section.

  • Torqueback, York

    So what about the class 333s operating around Leeds and Bradford?
    [Please see my last answer.--Editor.]

  • Roland Harmer, Bristol

    Are there similar trains in West Yorkshire?
    [Yes. Class 333s -- we are following any possible consequences of this with Northern.--Editor.]