Heathrow Express fleet withdrawn indefinitely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 Parallel Heathrow Connect, which provides a stopping service at lower fares, has been withdrawn so that its Class 360 units can be 'borrowed' for the express services.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.

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