Potters Bar rail accidents

Last updated

2002 Potters Bar rail crash
365530 at Cambridge, 1997.jpg
A Class 365 of the type involved in the 2002 accident.
Date10 May 2002
12:58 BST
Location Potters Bar, Hertfordshire
Coordinates 51°41′49″N0°11′38″W / 51.697°N 0.194°W / 51.697; -0.194 Coordinates: 51°41′49″N0°11′38″W / 51.697°N 0.194°W / 51.697; -0.194
Line East Coast Main Line
Operator West Anglia Great Northern
Incident typeDerailment
CausePoints failure (moved while train was passing over them)
List of UK rail accidents by year

There have been four railway accidents at Potters Bar (England). Those in 1898 and 1946 were signals passed at danger. The accident in 2002 led to substantial public debate and a national change in policy relating to maintenance of infrastructure.



On 19 March 1898, the 7:50 p.m train from Hatfield to King's Cross ran past the signals at danger when it reached Potters Bar. The train cut through the catch points and buffers and crashed onto the platform. The front part of the engine was smashed and the leading coach wrecked. No one was killed. The driver, fireman and guard narrowly escaped injury. Some passengers complained of being shaken but were able to go home. [1] [2]


On 16 May 1899 the Earl of Strafford was killed at Potters Bar railway station when he was hit by an express train. He appeared from witnesses to step in front of the train from the bottom of the slope at the end of the platform; he was carried for 50 yards (46 m). [3] The coroner's court investigated his medical conditions, as he was prone to catalepsy. The possibility of suicide was also considered. A finding of suicide would have had substantial social and legal implications. The jury returned a verdict that the death was due to misadventure. [3]


On 10 February 1946, a local passenger train travelling towards Kings Cross hit buffers at Potters Bar station. Derailed carriages fouled the main lines. Two express trains travelling in opposite directions then hit the wreckage. Two passengers were killed and the 17 injured were taken to hospital. The driver of the local train was found to have misidentified a poorly-placed main-line signal as applying to his own line. It was thought probable that he had been misled by the signal applying to his line showing clear when he first saw it (though changing against him shortly afterwards). The signalman was found to have contributed to the accident by changing a set of points as the train passed over them. [4] [lower-alpha 1]


On 10 May 2002, a northbound train derailed at high speed, killing seven and injuring 76. [5] Part of the train ended up wedged between the station platforms and building structures.


A West Anglia Great Northern train service left King's Cross station at 12:45 heading for King's Lynn in Norfolk, via Cambridge. At 12:55, travelling at 97 mph (156 km/h), the four-coach Class 365 Electric multiple unit (unit number: 365526) passed over a set of points "2182A" just south of Potters Bar railway station. The points moved under the train, [6] causing the rear bogie of the third coach [7] and the entire fourth carriage to derail. This caused the fourth coach to become detached and cross onto the adjacent line where it flipped into the air. The momentum threw the carriage into the station, where one end of the carriage struck Darkes Lane bridge parapet, [7] destroying the masonry and sending debris onto the road below. It then mounted the platform and slid along before coming to rest under the platform canopy at 45 degrees. The front three coaches remained on the tracks, and came to a stop approximately 400 metres north of the station due to an automatic application of the brakes. [7]

Six of the victims were travelling in the train, while a seventh, Agnes Quinlivan, was killed by the masonry falling from the bridge over Darkes Lane.


A set of points. The stretcher bars positioned between the two moving blades keep them the correct distance apart FAW-points1.jpg
A set of points. The stretcher bars positioned between the two moving blades keep them the correct distance apart

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report released in May 2003 found that the points were poorly maintained and that this was the principal cause of the accident. [8] The bolts that held the stretcher bars that maintain the distance between the two point blades had come loose or gone missing, causing the point blades to move apart when the train passed over them. The points had been fully inspected on 1 May by a team working for the private railway maintenance firm Jarvis plc and there had been a further visual inspection on 9 May the day before the crash, with no problems reported.[ citation needed ]

However, that evening, a WAGN station announcer was travelling on the down fast line [7] and reported a "rough ride" [7] at Potters Bar whilst going over that same place on the track, points "2182A". A Railtrack engineering supervisor [7] was sent to make an inspection, but due to an apparent misunderstanding by the Kings Cross signal box staff, [7] he was sent to the wrong line, the up fast line, [7] to check the track and points[ citation needed ] and did not find the "loose nuts" that subsequently led to the accident.

Initially after the accident, Jarvis claimed that the points' poor condition was due to sabotage of some sort, [9] and that its maintenance was not to blame. No solid evidence of any sabotage has ever come to light, and the HSE report found that other sets of points in the Potters Bar area showed similar, less-serious maintenance deficiencies and the poor state of maintenance "probably arose from a failure to understand fully the design and safety requirements".

Further investigations by the HSE found that heavy and constant vibrations on the stretcher bars and their bolts caused them in turn to vibrate and oscillate until their nuts fell off the bolts. These have since been replaced by two-part locking nuts instead of the main nuts having half-size locking nuts to hold them in place.

In November 2010, the Office of Rail Regulation said Network Rail and Jarvis Rail would be charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act. The case was heard at Watford Magistrates' Court in February 2011.


The tragedy sparked a debate about whether private maintenance firms were paying too little attention to training and safety. In 2003, Network Rail announced it was taking all track maintenance in-house, ending the use of private contractors except for large-scale renewal or development projects. [10]

On 28 April 2004, Jarvis sent a letter to the victims' families, admitting liability for the accident. The company said that it would formally accept "legally justified claims" after making a financial provision of £3,000,000. [11]

In the letter Kevin Hyde, chief executive, wrote:

In the aftermath of the crash, when Jarvis was under great pressure to explain itself, we were drawn into a debate about the possible causes of the crash. On behalf of the company and my colleagues, I would like to apologise for the hurt and anger our actions in responding caused.

A circular memorial plate was erected on platform 3 of the station, dedicated to the seven fatalities of the Potters Bar crash.

On 13 May 2011, Network Rail was fined £3 million for safety failings related to the crash. [12]

List of people killed

Except for Agnes Quinlivan, a nearby pedestrian, all other fatalities were in the rear carriage of the train.

See also


  1. Unlike road signals, a rail signal, once observed showing a proceed aspect, will not normally change against the driver observing it.

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  1. "Smash-up at Potters Bar". Reynolds's Newspaper, Sunday 20 March 1898, p. 4. "19th Century British Library Newspapers Database", British Library
  2. PBHistory.co.uk | Railway Crashes Archived 1 May 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  3. 1 2 "The Death of Lord Strafford". The Times. No. 35833. London. 19 May 1899. p. 8.
  4. Mount, A.H.C. (Lieut.-Col.) (31 May 1946). "Report on the Collisions which occurred on the 10th February, 1946, at Potters Bar on the London & North Eastern Railway" (PDF). Railway Accidents. Ministry of Transport.
  5. "Rail crash officials will not face manslaughter charges". the Guardian. 18 October 2005. Retrieved 25 March 2010.
  6. Office of Rail Regulation: Potters Bar interim report Archived 3 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine (Retrieved 23 February 2011)
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 National Archives: Coroners inquest into the Potters Bar Derailment, Tuesday 1 June (Retrieved 30 May 2016)
  8. "Train derailment at Potters Bar 10 May 2002 – A progress report by the HSE Investigation Board" (PDF). Health & Safety Executive. May 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 November 2008.[ dead link ]
  9. Sabotage: rail firm's crash theory Andrew Clark, The Guardian, 18 May 2002, www.guardian.co.uk
  10. "Network Rail takes repairs in-house". BBC News. 24 October 2003.
  11. Clark, Andrew (28 April 2004). "Jarvis admits liability for Potters Bar crash". The Guardian . London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  12. "Network Rail fined £3m over Potters Bar crash". BBC News. 13 May 2011.
  13. "Widow of Tulse Hill prince killed in rail crash speaks of loss". Your Local Guardian. Retrieved 16 June 2010.