Great Heck rail crash

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Great Heck rail crash
An InterCity 225 Driving Van Trailer, similar to the one involved in the crash
Date28 February 2001
06:13 GMT
LocationGreat Heck, Selby, North Yorkshire
Coordinates53°41′14″N 1°05′53″W / 53.68722°N 1.09806°W / 53.68722; -1.09806Coordinates: 53°41′14″N 1°05′53″W / 53.68722°N 1.09806°W / 53.68722; -1.09806
CountryEngland, UK
LineEast Coast Main Line
OperatorGreat North Eastern Railway
CauseObstruction on line
List of UK rail accidents by year

The Great Heck rail crash, also called the Selby rail crash,[1] was a high-speed train accident that occurred at Great Heck near Selby, North Yorkshire, England on the morning of 28 February 2001. An InterCity 225 passenger train operated by GNER travelling from Newcastle to London collided with a Land Rover Defender which had crashed down a motorway embankment onto the railway line. It was consequently derailed into the path of an oncoming freight train at an estimated closing speed of 142 mph (229 km/h). Ten people died including the drivers of both trains, and 82 were seriously injured. It remains the worst rail disaster of the 21st century in the United Kingdom.


The crash occurred at approximately 06:13 (GMT), when a Land Rover Defender towing a loaded trailer (carrying a Renault Savanna estate car) left the carriageway of the westbound M62 motorway just before a bridge over the East Coast Main Line.[2] The vehicle ran 30 yards (27 m) down an embankment and onto the southbound railway track.[3] The driver, Gary Neil Hart, tried to reverse it off the track but could not. He exited the vehicle and, while he was using a mobile telephone to contact emergency services, the Land Rover was hit by a southbound GNER InterCity 225 heading from Newcastle to London King's Cross.[4]

The InterCity 225 was propelled by a Class 91 locomotive (No.91023) and led by Driving Van Trailer (DVT) No. 82221.[3] After striking the Land Rover, the leading bogie of the DVT derailed but the train stayed upright. Points to nearby sidings then deflected it into the path of an oncoming Freightliner freight train carrying coal[5] and travelling from Immingham to Ferrybridge, hauled by a Class 66 locomotive (No.66521).[6] The freight train hit the wreckage approximately 2,106 feet (642 m) from the passenger train's impact with the Land Rover.[7] The impact resulted in the near destruction of the lightweight DVT and severe to moderate damage to all nine of the InterCity 225's Mark 4 coaches, which mostly overturned and came to rest down an embankment to the east side of the track, in a field adjacent to the railway line just south of overbridge ECM 2/7.[8] The trailing locomotive remained upright and suffered minor damage, although it was derailed. The Class 66 lost its bogies after impact, with debris of the DVT jammed underneath rupturing its fuel tank.[8] The freight locomotive then overturned onto its left side coming to rest in the garden of a residence adjacent to the line to the north of the same bridge. The locomotive sustained major damage to its cab area and right side. The first nine wagons following it were also derailed and damaged to varying extents.[9]

Immediately before the impact of the two trains, the speed of the InterCity 225 was estimated as 88 mph (142 km/h) and that of the freight train as 54 mph (87 km/h). With an estimated closing speed of 142 mph (229 km/h), the collision between the trains was the highest-speed railway incident that had occurred in the UK since the Ladbroke Grove crash.[10]


Both train drivers, two additional train crew on board the InterCity 225, and six passengers were killed, all as a result of the second collision.[11] Survivors of the accident included a train-driving instructor (Andrew Hill), who was travelling in the cab of 66521 and teaching a new route to the driver of the Class 66, a driver with 24 years of experience.

Among those killed were:[12]

  • John Weddle, from Throckley – GNER driver
  • Stephen (George) Dunn, from Brayton – Freightliner driver
  • Raymond Robson, from Whitley Bay – GNER train guard
  • Paul Taylor, from Newcastle – GNER chef

The coaches of the InterCity 225 were carrying 99 passengers and train staff.[13] The early morning 04:45 time departure from Newcastle resulted in reduced passenger numbers. As it was, 45 of the 52 seriously injured passengers, and all eight fatalities (excluding the two locomotive 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.[13] In total 82 survivors were taken to hospital.[14] The official incident report praised the crashworthiness of the InterCity 225's Mark 4 coaches.[15]

An unusual aspect of the emergency response was the need to carry out disinfecting procedures at the scene because of the 2001 UK foot and mouth crisis in the United Kingdom.[16]


A memorial to the Great Heck rail disaster

Hart escaped the incident unscathed and was later tried on ten counts of causing death by dangerous driving.[17]

Locomotive No. 66526 has since been named "Driver Steve Dunn (George)", in memory of the Freightliner driver killed in the accident. It carries a plaque commemorating the accident: "In remembrance of a dedicated engineman Driver Steve (George) Dunn was tragically killed in the accident at Great Heck on 28th February 2001".[18] Dunn's son James, who was nine at the time of the crash, later became a train driver.[19]

John Weddle, the GNER driver killed in the accident, was also honoured by way of a new driver-training school in his home city of Newcastle, which was named after him. In a ceremony attended by members of his family, his 16-year-old daughter Stephanie unveiled a plaque dedicating the school to his memory.[20]

Barry Needham, also a railway employee, was also commemorated by the naming of 60087 after him, the plates later being transferred to 60091. This locomotive also carries an explanatory plaque.[21]

Coincidentally, 91023 was also involved in the Hatfield rail crash four months earlier.[22] The locomotive escaped with only slight damage on both occasions. Following technical upgrade of the Class 91 fleet, which led to all locomotives having 100 added to the number (91001 became 91101, etc.), 91023 was renumbered 91132, not 91123.[23]

Legal proceedings[edit]

Hart denied the charges, claiming that his car had suffered a mechanical fault, or had collided with an object on the road.[24] An investigation, including reconstruction of the Land Rover to demonstrate that it was not mechanically defective, concluded that Hart had been driving in a sleep-deprived condition, and had not applied the brakes as it went down the embankment. It later transpired that Hart had stayed up the previous night talking on the telephone to a woman he had met through an internet dating agency.[25] Hart later stated that although he had witnessed the impact between the InterCity 225 and his Land Rover, he had not been aware of the more serious collision with the freight train until informed by police several hours later.[26] He was found guilty on 13 December 2001, and was sentenced to 5 years in prison and a 5-year driving ban. He was released from prison in July 2004 after serving half of his sentence.[27]

Campaigners drew attention to what they claimed was the inadequate length of the crash barriers alongside the motorway.[28] According to the Health and Safety Executive's final report, the Land Rover had left the road 30 yards before the barrier started and had easily broken through the simple wooden fence that lined the track.[29] A 2003 Highways Agency review of crash barriers on bridges over railways concluded that only three bridges nationwide were in need of upgrading. The bridge at Great Heck was not one of them. By October 2003 Hart's insurers had paid out over £22 million.[30] Gary Hart's insurers, through Hart's name, sued the Department for Transport for a contribution to the damages paid to GNER and the victims, alleging a degree of causation on the grounds that the safety barrier was inadequate (contributory negligence).[31] The High Court judge ruled that the barrier length had been reasonable and there was no negligence.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Hart guilty of Selby rail crash deaths". The Telegraph. 13 December 2001. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  2. ^ HSE 2002, pp. 9–10.
  3. ^ a b RM April 2001, p. 4.
  4. ^ HSE 2002, p. 10.
  5. ^ "Rail crash 'unavoidable' – report". Mail Online. 24 February 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  6. ^ Piggott, Nick, ed. (July 2001). "Freightliner orders 17 more 66's". The Railway Magazine. Vol. 147 no. 1,203. London: IPC Media. p. 5. ISSN 0033-8923.
  7. ^ HSE 2002, p. 11.
  8. ^ a b HSE 2002, p. 15.
  9. ^ HSE 2002, p. 27.
  10. ^ Wainwright, Martin (5 December 2002). "Rail crash inquiry calls for monitors". Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 25 August 2008.
  11. ^ "Selby rail crash car driver Gary Hart blames 'fate'", BBC News, 28 February 2011. Retrieved 16 July 2014
  12. ^ Stokes, Paul (6 March 2001). "Four more Selby crash victims identified". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  13. ^ a b HSE 2002, p. 24.
  14. ^ HSE 2002, p. 5.
  15. ^ HSE 2002, p. 35.
  16. ^ HSE 2002, p. 33.
  17. ^ "Selby rail crash car driver Gary Hart blames 'fate'". BBC News. 28 February 2011. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  18. ^ Marsden, Colin (November 2001). "Freightliner honours Great Heck driver...and twins with Enron". The Railway Magazine. Vol. 147 no. 1,207. London: IPC Media. p. 65. ISSN 0033-8923.
  19. ^ "Courage of families praised at Great Heck memorial service". The York Press. 28 February 2011. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  20. ^ "Selby rail driver honoured". BBC News. 10 July 2002. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  21. ^ Dingle, Geoffrey. "60087 at Stafford". Railway Herald. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  22. ^ RM April 2001, p. 7.
  23. ^ Piggott, Nick, ed. (March 2002). "Twin crash loco's new identity". The Railway Magazine. Vol. 148 no. 1,211. London: IPC Media. p. 34. ISSN 0033-8923.
  24. ^ "Selby crash motorist receives five year sentence". The Guardian. January 2002. Retrieved 20 November 2016.
  25. ^ "Crash driver's marathon phone chats". BBC. 13 December 2001. Retrieved 25 August 2008.
  26. ^ "Selby driver tells of death threats". BBC. 6 December 2001. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
  27. ^ "Selby crash driver's jail release". 12 July 2004 – via
  28. ^ "Call to boost barrier safety". BBC News. 13 December 2001. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  29. ^ HSE 2002, p. 30.
  30. ^ "Selby insurer's compensation claim". BBC News. 7 October 2003. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  31. ^ "Insurer loses Selby rail crash claim". The Telegraph. 30 October 2003. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  32. ^ GNER v Hart, [2003] EWHC 2450 (QB) (30 October 2003).


  • Piggott, Nick; Mardsen, Colin; Milner, Chris; Longman, Jon (April 2001). "13[sic] Killed in ECML disaster at Heck". The Railway Magazine. Vol. 147 no. 1,200. London, UK: IPC magazines. ISSN 0033-8923.
  • The track obstruction by a road vehicle and subsequent train collisions at Great Heck 28 February 2001 (Report). Health and Safety Executive. February 2002. ISBN 0-7176-2163-4.

External links[edit]