ON THIS DAY: 2001: Ten die in Great Heck rail crash

The aftermath of the tragedy.
The aftermath of the tragedy.

Sixteen years ago today, Yorkshire was in shock at one of the region's worst ever rail tragedies.

The Selby rail crash, which also became known as the Great Heck rail crash, occurred in quiet countryside at Great Heck, close to the M62 motorway near Whitley Bridge on the morning of 28 February 2001.

Ten people were killed and eighty two suffered serious injuries as a sequence of tragic events turned what could have been a relatively small incident into one of the most devastating in the country, recording the highest speed railway incident ever in the UK with a closing speed impact of 142 mph.

The crash occurred at approximately 6.13am when a Land Rover towing a car on a trailer, swerved off the M62 motorway just before a bridge over the East Coast Main Line.

The vehicle careered down the embankment coming to rest on the southbound railway track before Gary Neil Hart, the Land Rover driver, tried in vain to reverse his vehicle off the line.

He then climbed from the vehicle and used his mobile telephone to call the emergency services just as the Land Rover was hit by a southbound GNER InterCity 225 travelling at over 120 mph from Newcastle to London King’s Cross.

After striking the Land Rover, the leading bogie of the 225 derailed but the train stayed upright.

However, fate then struck a cruel blow and points to nearby sidings deflected it into the path of an oncoming Freightliner freight train travelling from Immingham to Ferrybridge hauled by a Class 66 locomotive.

The two trains collided about half a mile from the impact with the Land Rover.

Most of the 225 coaches overturned before coming to rest down an embankment to the east side of the track. The trailing locomotive, though derailed, remained upright and suffered minor damage.

Both train drivers, two additional train crew on board the InterCity 225 and six passengers were killed.

Survivors of the accident included James Hill, a train-driving instructor, who was travelling in the cab of the train and teaching a new route to the driver of the Class 66, a driver with 24 years of experience.

The coaches of the InterCity 225 were carrying 99 passengers along with train staff.

The outcome, as dreadful as it was, could have so much worse if the train had been closer to its total seated capacity of 544 passengers, with the early morning departure from Newcastle resulting in reduced passenger numbers.

As it was, 45 of the 52 seriously injured passengers and all eight fatalities (excluding the two train drivers) were travelling in the first five coaches, which included a restaurant car and two first class coaches with less densely packed seating than standard coaches.

Gary Hart escaped the collision unscathed and claimed that his car had suffered a mechanical fault, or had collided with an object on the road. and had not applied the brakes as it went down the embankment.

One unusual aspect of the emergency response was the need to carry out disinfecting procedures at the scene due to the foot and mouth epidemic in the UK at the time of the incident.

Hart was tried on ten counts of causing death by dangerous driving on 13 December 2001, found guilty and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment but released after serving half his sentence.