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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Liam Thorp

What really went wrong with Merseyrail trains this summer

The scale of the problems behind months of chaos on the Merseyrail network earlier this year have been laid bare in a new report.

The network was thrown into turmoil between May and June as large numbers of train services were withdrawn and timetables cut back because of faults.

Now a new report by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority sheds new light on what was behind the widespread disruption faced by frustrated commuters.

READ MORE: Long-awaited reports into controversial Liverpool and Everton matchday car parks published

The problems first surfaced in May 2022 and came from a 'rapid escalation' in wheel bearing faults on Merseyrail's 507 and 508 fleets. The report details how technicians from Swiss firm Stadler were assigned to ride the trains to detect vulnerable bearings which, when detected, led to trains being withdrawn from service.

Typically, during normal operations it is expected that the fleet of trains would experience two bearing failures per month, but through the period from late May to early July there were more than 300 bearing faults on the network. A faulty bearing can lead to a seized axle which could cause a train derailment - as such this issue was treated as safety critical.

The initial suspected cause of the bearings faults is electrical currents flowing through the bearing as opposed to being returned to the rail head as designed. Further investigations are currently being carried out.

As more and more passenger services were withdrawn, the Combined Authority said it sought assurances from all parties that all necessary action was being taken to rectify the faults and get the trains back on the tracks.

The report states that replacement bearings are now available if required and that Stadler technicians are closely monitoring the situation. Passenger services on the Merseyrail network have returned to normal and no further issues are perceived in the short to medium term.

The current fleet is set to be replaced by a long-awaited fleet of new Merseyrail trains which should start to be rolled out in the coming weeks and months. It is hoped all the current trains will be replaced by new ones within 18 months.

In a statement, a Combined Authority spokesperson said: “Between May and early July a large number of wheel bearing faults were detected on the Merseyrail fleet.

“On the direction of the Mayor, Steve Rotheram, the Combined Authority and Merseytravel, which oversees the Merseyrail concession agreement, immediately directed industry partners to work together to minimise disruption to passengers and ensure safety was not compromised.

“Merseyrail technicians were deployed to detect vulnerable bearings and once found the trains were withdrawn from service and the bearings replaced. Services have now returned to normal with no further issues expected.

“Analysis has found the faults were a result of electrical currents flowing through the bearings, causing pitting. With the help of Merseyrail, Serco, Abellio, Stadler Rail Services UK, Network Rail and key suppliers, independent experts SNC Lavalin continue to investigate the underlying cause. They are expected to report back in the coming weeks.

“New replacement bearings are not expected to fail in the short to medium term however a large pool of spare bearings has been sourced to mitigate any future risk to services, should the issue recur. Test will be carried out on the new Class 777 fleet however a repeat of the problem is considered highly unlikely.”


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