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Green light for East Coast Azumas

THE Office of Rail and Road has approved the use of Hitachi Class 800 Intercity Express sets on the East Coast Main Line, but only between London and Leeds.

LNER is ‘delighted’, and hopes to be running some 800s in passenger service by the summer.

The news, given to Hitachi Europe in a letter from the ORR, has come within a week of the third anniversary of the first appearance of an ‘Azuma’ set at London King’s Cross. Its arrival, on 18 March 2016, was purely symbolic – the prototype which went on show to guests and media had not been fitted out internally and its windows were blanked out.

Work started on building the body shells for the production series in Japan in May 2017, and Virgin Trains East Coast predicted that Azumas would start to enter service in 2018.

Problems then emerged with electro-magnetic interference which affected safety-critical lineside circuits, including CCTV protecting level crossings.

A period of prolonged testing by Hitachi and Network Rail now appears to have succeeded, and both the five- and nine-car sets have been approved for speeds of up to 125mph (200km/h) between London and Leeds. Restrictions have been imposed when the sets are running in multiple with more than one pantograph raised, because of the known ‘ripple’ effect on the OHLE when two pantographs pass in quick succession.

The ORR is also cautious about the use of ASDO – Automatic Selective Door Opening – for the moment, because operating rules have yet to be developed and some infrastructure works need to be carried out.

Another concern was the possibility that people could reach the roofs of the vehicles by climbing on the jumper cables connecting each car. The ORR says there must be agreement between Hitachi and LNER about how the risks can be made as small as possible before the 800s come into service, until modifications can be carried out. In the meantime, dispatch staff will be told to be ‘extra vigilant’.

Work is continuing north of Doncaster on the line to Edinburgh, where the signalling will be protected by new isolation transformers.

The permission which has been granted is provisional. Network Rail has warned that if its equipment proves to be vulnerable, it is reserving the right to impose further restrictions or demand that the 800s be withdrawn again.

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