The Hatfield Rail Crash 2000

The Incident

On 17th October 2000 a Great North Eastern Railway InterCity 225 train going from
London to Leeds derailed at Hatfield station killing 4 people in the restaurant coach
and injuring 70, three seriously. Reports concluded that communication was
inadequate because some of the staff were unaware of maintenance procedures.
Widespread speed limits and tightening of health and safety procedures were put
into place as a consequence of this accident.

The train left London at 12.10 and travelled along the east coast main line at about
115 miles per hour. It derailed at Hatfield Station at 12.23. The train was driven by
an experienced driver accompanied by a trainee. The primary cause of the accident
was identified as the left-hand rail fracturing as the train passed over it.

The train continued to travel after the derailment for about 1000 yards. The first two
coaches and the leading locomotive remained upright on the rails, but all following
coaches including the driving van trailer were derailed, and the train separated into
three parts. The eighth section, which was the restaurant coach, overturned on to its
side and struck an overhead line gantry causing severe damage to the vehicle.

The Causes

An investigation discovered that rolling contact fatigue, defined as multiple surface
breaking cracks, had caused a rail to fragment as trains passed. These cracks occur
because of repeated high loads that cause the wheels to make contact with the rail,
and eventually the cracks grow until the rail fails. The problem was identified in a
letter from Railtrack in December 1999 which identified that the existing Railtrack
Line Specification was not sufficient to guard against this type of fatigue. Although
replacement rails were made available, they were never delivered to the location.

Railtrack had been privatised and was using contractors who it later emerged did not
have the appropriate engineering knowledge required.

In his book ‘The Crash That Stopped Britain’ Ian Jack states that months of social
chaos, public anger, managerial panic and political confusion followed in the
aftermath of the accident which killed four people, with people blaming each other in
a way that had not previously happened in other accidents of a similar nature.

The book discusses the importance of the shape of the rail at the top matching the
shape of the wheel on the train, and the loading characteristics between rail and
wheel, especially when the track is curved and the train is going at high speed, as it
was in the Hatfield disaster.

Jack talks more about the contact made between rail and wheel particularly on the
curves, suggesting it is a partnership requiring both profiles to meet each other for
safe travel. However, reports of the Hatfield crash refer to surface cracks on the
rails, loose fixings, bolts missing that should have connected the rail to sleeper which
should have been found on track inspection.

LTC Holt states that valuable lessons have been learned from railway accidents to
improve the safety of railways in use today. He states that although they represent
engineering failures, there is much that can be learned to improve rail travel in the


This incident highlights both the importance of applying standardisation throughout
the supply chain and maintaining critical infrastructure.

In construction, information sharing processes such as Building Information Modelling
(BIM) are helping reduce clashes during the lifecycle of built assets, while in recent
years the UK Rail Industry has focused on collaborative business relationships (ISO
44001) to improve communication.

Assent Risk Management can help you with both these processes. Contact us today
to discuss your requirement.

Peter Clements
Peter Clements
Articles: 13