Final preparations are under way the mark the 20th anniversary of the Selby Rail Crash – the worst UK rail tragedy of the 21st century.
Organisers of events to remember the 10 men who died in the collision between an GNER InterCity passenger service and a fully-laden coal train near the North Yorkshire village of Great Heck said it is important the commemorations go ahead, despite having to be held remotely due to the pandemic.
Two train drivers, two others GNER staff and six passengers died on February 28 2001, after the Newcastle to London passenger service struck a Land Rover which had careered off the M62 motorway and crashed onto the track.
The derailed passenger train, which was travelling at 117mph, was then hit by the Freightliner train, carrying 1,600 tonnes of coal, coming the other way, with catastrophic results.
Online memorial events will be broadcast from Great Heck and Newcastle on Sunday morning and organisers say people around the world are expected to join in.
This will involve laying wreaths, readings and pausing as an LNER train passes Great Heck and sounds its horn as a tribute to those who died.
On Sunday afternoon, an online memorial service will be live-streamed from Selby Abbey, led by Canon John Weetman, Vicar of Selby Abbey, and the Reverend Peter Hibbs.
A commemorative candle will be lit for each of those who lost their lives.
The accident claimed the lives of John Weddle, the GNER driver; Steve Dunn, the Freightliner driver, and eight other men – Steve Baldwin, Alan Ensor, Raymond Robson, Paul Taylor, Clive Vidgen, Barry Needham, Robert Shakespeare and Christopher Terry.
A crown court jury and an inquest heard how Land Rover driver Gary Hart could not move his vehicle off the tracks and was calling the emergency services when the crash happened.
Hart had had little sleep the night before his vehicle veered off the motorway and plunged down an embankment, onto the East Coast mainline.
He was later found guilty of 10 charges of causing death by dangerous driving and sentenced to five years in jail, serving around half that time.
Former British Transport Police superintendent Tony Thompson, who is coordinating Sunday’s events, said: “It’s really important, I think, for the families in particular to remember.
“But the emergency services involved also. Everybody who was there will remember in some ways.”
Mr Thompson, who was at the scene in 2001, said: “For some people, it brings it all back and they find it really difficult.
“It’s a difficult time for them and they don’t want to be reminded. It’s a very personal thing.
“But the majority of people I’ve been involved with over the years do think it’s important that people don’t forget. Even if they don’t take part they will be remembering as that day will be etched on their minds forever.”
Mr Thompson has stayed in touch with many of those affected the tragedy as well as a number of other rail crashes he attended, including Clapham in 1988, Ladbroke Grove in 1999, Hatfield in 2000 and Potters Bar in 2002.
One of his duties at Great Heck was to show some of the families of the bereaved around the wreckage. He said it was impossible not to be shocked by the devastation left by the crash.
Canon Weetman said: “We felt it was important we still went ahead with marking the anniversary for those involved, for the bereaved and the injured, those involved in the rescue and, also, because so many people remember the events of that day.”
He said: “There’s something about coming together, even virtually, and remembering together. I think people get a sense that they’re not alone in their grief.”
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