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Thirteen killed in train collision in northern England
March 1, 2001
GREAT HECK, England-(AP) - A high-speed passenger train collided with a Land Rover, derailed and then smashed into an oncoming freight train in northern England Wednesday morning, killing 13 people.
More than 70 other people were injured, Transport Police Inspector Ian Griffiths told reporters, as rescue workers continued to struggle to free passengers trapped in the mangled wreckage at Great Heck, a village about 200 miles (320 kms) north of London.
The accident - the fourth fatal crash in 3 1/2 years - was certain to raise new questions about the safety of the beleaguered British rail system, though there was no early indication that engineer error or equipment failure had played a role.
Police were investigating how the Land Rover and trailer veered off a highway and on to a rail line. The driver was able to get out of the vehicle and phone police, but too late to stop the passenger train approaching at about 120 mph (190 kph).
The passenger train derailed after hitting the Land Rover, but remained upright until it slammed into an oncoming coal train.
"It's like a scene from a bomb explosion. The carnage is appalling," said Nigel Metcalfe, spokesman for North Yorkshire Ambulance Service.
He said rescuers reported hearing mobile phones ringing inside the cars.
Mangled coaches lay in a muddy field below the railway embankment. At least 56 people were taken to hospitals, said Bob Schofield, spokesman for the National Health Service.
"One coach was badly crushed. We fear there will be serious casualties inside that coach," Schofield said.
Mike Playforth, an accident and emergency consultant at Pontefract General Infirmary, said 31 people had been admitted to the hospital, and three had critical injuries.
"They're in shock," Playforth said of the injured. "They are not speaking about it, they are all very shocked at what's happened."
He said at least three of these injuries were life-threatening.
About 100 people were aboard the train, according to Great North Eastern Railways, the train operator. A precise count wasn't immediately possible, because most rail passengers travel without reservations.
"We have carried out four sweeps of the carriages and believe there is nobody alive left on board," Divisional Officer Brian Bell of North Yorkshire Fire Service told reporters more than five hours after the crash.
"There was an earlier report of a voice being heard in a buffet car. We have used listening devices and thermal imaging equipment in that area, but there has been no sign of life," Bell said.
Police said the driver of the Land Rover had called just before the crash. "While the operator was speaking to him we heard him shout: `The train's coming,' and then there was a bang," a police spokesman said.
Police were interviewing the Land Rover driver at midday.
"We believe there were crash barriers in the area and our examiners will look at all aspects of this incident," said Detective Superintendent Nick Bracken of British Transport Police,
Janine Edwards, 22, who was a passenger in the middle of the train, said she heard "screaming and shouting and the lights went out.
"I held onto the table in front of me and then there was a huge impact. My carriage was on its side. I was lucky, I was still in my seat, clinging to the table. But one lady, who was traveling with her daughter, had been flung into the air and was lying in the next corridor. Her leg was trapped.
"The man opposite me was streaming with blood. The window next to him was smashed and the frame had come out and hit him. His wife sitting next to him was covered in his blood," Edwards said
"We were woken up by a horrible, weird crunching minutes before 6.15 a.m.," said David Chandler, who lives about 200 yards (meters) from the railway.
The freight train was partially derailed with its front end completely off the track and lying on its side. It had slid into the back garden of a house, crushing a trailer.
The track is part of the east coast mainline from London to Edinburgh in Scotland. Four people were killed on that line just outside London on Oct. 17 when a rail broke and a high-speed passenger train derailed.
That accident led to speed restrictions and disruption throughout Britain's rail network during an emergency program of replacing cracked rails.