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Hatfield rail crash

Hatfield rail crash
An  passing the memorial garden created next to the  for the four people who died in the Hatfield rail crash
An InterCity 225 passing the memorial garden created next to the East Coast Main Line for the four people who died in the Hatfield rail crash
Date 17 October 2000 (2000-10-17)
Time 12:23, (UTC) (Z)
Location Hatfield, Hertfordshire
Country England
Rail line East Coast Main Line
Operator Great North Eastern Railway
Cause Broken rail
Trains 1
Passengers 170
Deaths 4
Injuries over 70[1]
List of UK rail accidents by year

The Hatfield rail crash was a railway accident on 17 October 2000, at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, UK. The accident did not result in a large number of deaths, but it nevertheless exposed the major stewardship shortcomings of the privatised national railway infrastructure company Railtrack, and the failings of the regulatory oversight which the company displayed in its initial years, principally a failure to ensure that the company had a sound knowledge of the condition of its assets. Railtrack was subsequently partially renationalised as a result.


  • Accident events 1
  • Cause of accident 2
  • Impact 3
  • Court case 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Accident events

A GNER InterCity 225 train bound for Leeds had left London King's Cross at 12:10, and was travelling at approximately 115 miles per hour (185 km/h) when it derailed south of Hatfield station at 12:23. The primary cause of the accident was later determined to be the left-hand rail fracturing as the train passed over it. Four passengers died in the accident and a further seventy were injured.

The leading Class 91 locomotive (91023) and the first two coaches remained upright and on the rails. All of the following coaches, and the trailing Driving Van Trailer were derailed, and the train set separated into three sections. The restaurant coach, the eighth vehicle in the set, overturned onto its side and struck an overhead line gantry after derailing, resulting in severe damage to the vehicle.

Those who died were all in the restaurant coach:

Crash investigators identified the integrity and strength of the British Rail-designed Mark 4 coaches for protecting occupants. Coincidentally, the locomotive in the crash was also involved in the Great Heck rail crash (where the leading Driving Van Trailer hit a road vehicle on the track) a few months later.

Cause of accident

A preliminary investigation found a rail had fragmented as trains passed and that the likely cause was "rolling contact fatigue" (defined as multiple surface-breaking cracks). Such cracks are caused by high loads where the wheels contact the rail.[2] Repeated loading causes fatigue cracks to grow. When they reach a critical size, the rail fails. Over 300 critical cracks were found in rails at Hatfield. The problem was known about before the accident, and replacement rails made available but never delivered to the correct location for installation. The implication that other rails might be affected led to speed restrictions on huge lengths of railway, causing significant delays on many routes, while checks were carried out on the rail condition. The incidence of cracks similar to those found at Hatfield was alarmingly high throughout the country.

The rail infrastructure company Railtrack, having divested much of the engineering knowledge of British Rail into maintenance contractors, had inadequate maintenance records and no accessible asset register. It did not know how many other cases of "gauge corner cracking" (an example of rolling contact fatigue) around the network could lead to a Hatfield-like accident. Railtrack imposed over 1,200 emergency speed restrictions and instigated a nationwide (and costly) track replacement programme. The company was subject to "enforcement" by the Rail Regulator Tom Winsor.


The speed restrictions and track replacement works caused significant disruption on a majority of the national network for more than a year.

This disruption and Railtrack's spiralling costs set in motion the events which resulted in the collapse of the company into administration at the insistence of Transport Secretary Stephen Byers MP, and its replacement by the not-for-dividend company Network Rail under Byers's successor Alistair Darling MP.

Train operating companies were adversely affected by the disruption – with an estimate of a 19% revenue reduction for passenger train operating companies in the first year after the crash. Freight operator EWS was cancelling up to 400 trains per week as a result, whilst estimates put Freightliner's resultant losses at £1 million per month. The cost to the entire UK economy of the disruption was estimated at £6 million per day.[3]

The Institute of Rail Welding (IoRW)[4] was set up in 2002 by The Welding Institute (TWI) and Network Rail as a consequence of the recommendations in the investigation report. It provides a focus for individuals and organisations involved in rail welding and facilitates the adoption of best practice.

Court case

In 2003, six individuals and two companies – Network Rail (as successors of Railtrack) and the division of Balfour Beatty that maintained the track – were charged with manslaughter in connection with the accident (see corporate manslaughter). Charges against Network Rail/Railtrack and some of its executives were dropped in September 2004, but the other charges stood.[5] The trial began in January 2005; the judge, Mr Justice Mackay, warned that it could go on for a year. On 14 July, the judge instructed the jury to acquit all defendants on charges of manslaughter.[6] A few days later, Balfour Beatty changed its plea to guilty[7] on the health and safety charges and, on 6 September, Network Rail was found guilty of breaching health and safety law.[8] All of the executives who had been charged were acquitted.

The court considered the extent to which the poor condition of the rail was known and any acts or failures to act that resulted.

  • Anthony Walker (Balfour Beatty's rail maintenance director) and Nicholas Jeffries (its civil engineer), denied manslaughter.
  • Railtrack's Alistair Cook and Sean Fugill (asset managers for the London North-East zone), and track engineer Keith Lee, denied manslaughter.
  • All five men, with four others, were also accused of breaches of health and safety laws.
  • Balfour Beatty denied manslaughter.
  • Network Rail denied charges under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act.

See also


  1. ^ The ORR Final Report (July 2006) states "over 70" injured; news reports vary, mentioning figures up to "102 injured".
  2. ^ Doherty, Andy; Steve Clark; Robert Care; Mark Dembosky (June 2005). "Why Rails Crack?". Ingenia Online. Retrieved 2008-12-09. 
  3. ^ Andrew Murray (2001), Off the rails: Britain's great rail crisis : cause, consequences and cure, Verso, "Companies in trouble", pp.124-129 
  4. ^ [Institute of Rail Welding (IoRW)]
  5. ^ "Charges dropped against Railtrack".  
  6. ^ "Rail killing charges thrown out". BBC News. 14 July 2005. Archived from the original on 24 February 2012. Retrieved 4 March 2007. 
  7. ^ "Company admits Hatfield breaches". BBC News. 18 July 2005. Archived from the original on 5 August 2011. Retrieved 4 March 2007. 
  8. ^ "Network Rail guilty over Hatfield". BBC News. 6 November 2005. Archived from the original on 25 October 2012. Retrieved 4 March 2007. 

External links

  • ORR summary: Hatfield train derailment (archive copy)
  • ORR Final Report by the Independent Investigation Board (archive copy)
  • Health & Safety Executive page on the Hatfield crash
  • Why Rails Crack Ingenia, June 2005
  • Hatfield Rail Disaster - OpenLearn from The Open University
  • BBC News coverage:
    • BBC News In Depth - Hatfield crash
    • How Hatfield changed the railways
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