A LAND ROVER towing a trailer carrying a second car veered off a motorway at Great Heck in Yorkshire on February 28, and plunged on to Railtrack’s East Coast Main Line. Despite an emergency phone call by the driver at 06.12, his vehicle was struck almost immediately by the 04.45 Newcastle - London service, an IC225 trainset being propelled at 200 km/h by a Class 91 electric loco.

The driving van trailer leading the train was derailed but remained upright for 500m until deflected by points on to the northbound track. Still travelling at around 140 km/h, it collided almost head-on with a Class 66 locomotive hauling 17 wagons of coal, each grossing 100 tonnes. This train, operated by Freightliner Heavy Haul and carrying a data recorder, had braked 7sec before the impact to 84 km/h.

The DVT was destroyed, dissipating some of the kinetic energy of the two trains. Estimated at 840 MJ, this is the highest figure in any British collision. While severely damaged, the following MkIV coaches protected their passengers well despite a collision speed of about 224 km/h, exceeding even the 210 km/h at Ladbroke Grove on October 5 1999. This time, six passengers and four train crew died, including both drivers, but remarkably a second man in the cab of the Class 66 survived without serious injury.

Within a week, the Health & Safety Executive admitted there was nothing the rail industry could have done to prevent the accident.

The Land Rover had left the motorway hard shoulder at least 100m from the railway, well beyond the safety barrier. Incredibly, having slithered sideways down an embankment into a field, it then travelled another 20m straddling and smashing down the motorway boundary fence before bursting through the railway fence.

Concrete blocks obstructing this route (and its eastbound equivalent) duly appeared a few days later. But the HSE said that of the 79 road vehicles that ended up on Britain’s railways (excluding level crossings) in the last three years, only four had left the road at bridges because the driver had lost control. Given that the Highways Agency has 589 trunk road bridges over railways, in addition to thousands more on local roads, further action is unlikely. n