Dismay over lack of bridge barrier

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A RETIRED railwayman who survived the Great Heck disaster has revealed he is still “rankled” that a safety barrier was not erected at the spot where a tired driver veered off the M62 and caused the crash.

First-class passenger Bob Brook suffered eight broken ribs and punctured both lungs on February 28, 2001, when the GNER train he was travelling on derailed and collided with a freight train.

The passenger train was diverted into the freight train’s path after it crashed into Gary Hart’s Land Rover, which had come off the motorway and careered down an embankment on to the line at Little Heck Bridge, near Selby.

The collision prompted a major review of road bridges over rail lines, but safety precautions on the M62 were found to meet national standards.

Mr Brook, 63, who spent three days in intensive care after the crash, said: “A barrier should be put up at Heck without question.

“It’s probably the one thing that rankles me 10 years on that we never made a case to convince the authorities that one should be put there.

“Because the risk assessment is based on what the consequences of the event would be but also what the likelihood is of it happening, the site never came out as needing one.

“But there are five miles of barriers on the M62 before that location simply to protect lorries from going into a ditch.”

Mr Brook, of Haxby, near York, was travelling on the London-bound service to catch a Eurostar train for a holiday in France and Italy. He remembers little of the crash.

“I got on the train and sat in one of my favourite seats in first class,” he said.

“I was offered coffee, tea and newspapers and then the ticket collector came around.

“I started reading the paper and felt some braking. I thought we were braking for a speed restriction.”

The ticket collector was 43-year-old GNER customer operations manager Ray Robson, one of 10 people who were killed in the crash.

“I was knocked out,” Mr Brook said. “My first memory on coming around was like a nightmare.

“It seemed that the front of the coach was coming towards me in a dream; that was almost certainly me being thrown to the front of the train.

“I looked around and realised that I was lying on the floor of the carriage and I felt quite comfortable as I knew where I was.”

Mr Brook remembers being taken to a barn at nearby company Northern Straw, but he had to stay outside because it was full of injured people.

He was taken to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield three hours after the crash. He would have died, medics told him, if he had been made to wait half an hour longer.

Within three months Mr Brook was back to work as a timetable planning manager for Railtrack, but he found it difficult and took early retirement two years later.

He does voluntary work at the National Railway Museum in York and is involved two days a week in the upkeep of Britain’s last surviving railway nursery at Poppleton.

But, although Mr Brook worked in the railway industry for more than 35 years, the impact of the Great Heck crash has meant travelling by train brings back painful memories even now.

“I decided in hospital that the first trip would be from Poppleton to Harrogate – a different sort of train journey,” he said.

“I tried it four weeks after the incident. It was extremely hard and, by the time I got to Knaresborough, I just had to get off.

“The worst moment came when I travelled back through the crash site to Doncaster. I knew I had to do it, but when they came around with newspapers, coffee and went to collect tickets, it was extremely hard.

“You have to try to move on and get on with your life as best you can, but there are times when it all comes back.”

A Highways Agency spokeswoman said: “Safety is a top priority. Following the tragic incident on the M62 motorway at Little Heck near Selby in 2001, we carried out an urgent review of our 478 road over rail bridges to ensure they all met strict safety standards.

“The Transport Research Laboratory also carried out an independent investigation of the M62 incident and confirmed that the layout and extent of the safety barriers alongside the M62 at Little Heck met national standards and were adequate.

“We regularly inspect all bridges on our network to ensure they meet the necessary safety standards and have the correct levels of protection to reduce the risks of vehicles leaving the carriageway.”