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Thirteen dead in UK rail crash

GNER train
Images from the crash site
 

LONDON, England (CNN) -- At least thirteen people have died and several others have been injured after a freight train and a high-speed passenger service collided in northern England.

The accident happened after the passenger train ploughed into a Land Rover jeep which had veered off a motorway bridge onto the rail line early on Wednesday.

The train then derailed, hitting a freighter travelling on parallel track in the opposite direction, hurling coaches into nearby fields where they landed on their sides, trapping some passengers amid the mangled metal.

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Chris Jackson of The Railway Gazette: "A high-impact collision"

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British Transport Police said the crash happened around 0620 GMT on Wednesday at Great Heck just south of Selby, North Yorkshire, on the East Coast main line.

The passenger train involved was the 4.45 a.m. (0445 GMT) Newcastle to London service, and was believed to have been travelling at 125 m.p.h.

The driver of the Land Rover, which had been pulling another car on a trailer, was making a desperate warning call to emergency services when the accident happened. He suffered slight injuries.

Many of the estimated 100 passengers were initially trapped in the destroyed carriages, about 30 of them with serious injuries. Emergency services say all those trapped have now been freed.

British Transport Police said those passengers had been taken to local hospitals, with a further 40 so-called walking wounded.

Bob Schofield, an National Health Service spokesman said: "One coach was badly crushed. We fear there will be serious casualties inside that coach."

Attempts to calculate the number of casualties had been hampered because each carriage had been disfigured as a result of the crash, said an emergency services spokesman.

Rescue workers, using thermal imaging cameras, were cutting through the roof to reach those stranded in the buffet car.

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Others were poking digital cameras through holes in the carriages to check for other people.

The front three passenger carriages appeared to have been smashed from the rest of the GNER train.

The first carriage was almost vertical, lying back on the second one, while a third ended up in a field next to the track, which was surrounded by debris from the collision.

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 caravan.

The caravan-owner said: "The freight train destroyed my garden shed, workshop, summer house and caravan. Another few feet and it would have been in my living room."

Emergency services are investigating reports that the Land Rover slid off a road bridge in the snow after suffering a tyre puncture.

A spokeswoman for Railtrack said: "We understand his Land Rover careered down an embankment and came to rest on the track.

"He got out and tried to warn the oncoming train but could do nothing to prevent the impact."

The jeep was dragged by the passenger train for 250 metres (750 ft).

North Yorkshire fire service described the accident as a "major incident". Around 100 firefighters were at the scene.

Gary Young, spokesman for British Transport Police, told CNN: "It appears the freight train hit the vehicle (which had come off a motorway bridge), which then ploughed onto an adjoining line and was in collision with the passenger train."

He added that it was difficult to assess how much the weather was to blame, if at all.

A spokesman for Humberside Fire Service, said: "The number of casualties is so large that they have set up a triage area on an adjacent farm so that people can be treated before they are taken to hospital by helicopter or ambulance."

Passengers tapped on the side of their carriages to alert emergency services.

There had been concern that a fire could have broken out on the GNER 225 electric train, but despite the carriages being pulled by a diesel, there was little evidence of a blaze.

It was not clear whether the train was travelling at top speed, about 125 m.p.h., as speed restrictions are still in place in parts after being imposed following the Hatfield train crash in which four people died last October.

One of the commuters who escaped said: “It was like a rollercoaster ride. It was strange, you could even feel the impact against your face as the train tried to brake.”

Investigation

Hydraulic rescue equipment was being used in an effort to rescue those still inside the carriages.

A Health and Safety Executive spokesman said an investigation into the accident had begun with all aspects under scrutiny, including the state of the track and signaling.

Checks will also be made at the motorway bridge on the M62 where the jeep is believed to have left the road.

Inquiries will concentrate on the strength of the motorway bridge barriers, the responsibility of the Highways Agency.

Nigel Harris, editor of Rail magazine, said: "If a vehicle as comparatively small a Land Rover managed to plunge through a barrier, it does suggest that barriers are not strong enough."

He added, the accident was a "terrible, terrible blow for the railways at a time when the industry is trying to recover from last October's Hatfield crash" in which four people died.

A spokesman for GNER said: "We are assisting the emergency services rescue operation and working with Railtrack and the police to determine the cause of the accident."

It is running services between London and Leeds, while a train shuttle service was operating between York and Newcastle.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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