Two jailed for blocking 95mph rail line

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The Independent Online

Two men were jailed today after nearly derailing a 95mph train by piling concrete posts and pallets on the line, British Transport Police said.

Richard Hamilton, 21, and Ashley Leedham, 18, moved materials left by contractors into a 4ft-high pile on the line in Dosthill, Tamworth, Staffordshire in March this year.

The pile was hit by a train travelling at 95mph with 50 passengers on board, nearly causing it to derail.

Today British Transport Police said it was "sheer luck" nobody was injured.

A spokesman said Hamilton and Leedham, both from Kingsbury, Tamworth, were jailed for four-and-a-half and four years respectively at Warwick Crown Court.

The pair previously admitted malicious obstruction of the railway with intent to endanger safety.

The incident happened at about 11.30pm on March 18 when the driver of the 11.09pm Birmingham New Street to Nottingham service hit debris that was piled 4ft high on the line, the spokesman said.

The driver managed to stop the train after hitting the objects, which included concrete posts, wooden pallets and bags of cement.

It eventually came to a standstill just under half a mile away without derailing, but he told police afterwards he feared for his life as the train lifted from the tracks.

"I thought my time was up. I thought the train had come off the rails as it was juddering violently," he told officers.

"I then remember seeing a road bridge going over the railway lines and I remember shouting to myself, 'Oh no'.

"I thought the train was going to hit the bridge and that I was going to die.

"Images of my children, my family and people close to me flashed before me and I thought I would never see them again."

None of the 50 passengers on board the CrossCountry service were injured, but the driver was left extremely shaken, BTP said.

The train, travelling at around 95mph, suffered severe damage and had to be taken out of service.

BTP officers investigating the incident said it could have led to serious injury or even the deaths of passengers or train crew.

A major inquiry was launched and officers found objects including around 30 concrete posts, each weighing 20kg, more than 12 bags of cement, and two wooden pallets placed across the railway lines.

They had been left by railway contractors ready for maintenance work scheduled for the Wilnecote area.

The BTP said Hamilton and Leedham were arrested but when interviewed by police, initially denied any involvement and claimed to be elsewhere at the time.

Both gave differing accounts of where they had been and what they had been doing, the spokesman said.

But after seeing CCTV images and more evidence, they changed their stories and admitted playing a part in causing the obstruction, despite both accusing the other of taking the lead. They pleaded guilty on June 15.

Today Chief Inspector Allan Gregory, of British Transport Police, said: "It is a matter of sheer luck that no-one was seriously injured in this incident.

"The reality is that we could have been left dealing with mass casualties or even, in a worst case scenario, fatalities."

Network Rail route director Jo Kaye added: "This was a ludicrous thing to do and could easily have resulted in passengers or the train crew being killed.

"It is good to know that the judicial system has recognised the seriousness of the case in the sentences they have given.

"I hope this acts as a lesson to anyone else who may be inclined to carry out such reckless acts."