A VOLUNTEER guard on the North York Moors Railway was crushed to death between two carriages when a reversing steam engine inexplicably changed direction, an inquest heard today (Wednesday).
Strongly built retired policeman Bob Lund (65) had been helping with an un coupling operation at Grosmont Station when tragedy struck.
A jury was told the driver Norman Ash and fireman Benjamin Preece had expected the guard to rejoin them on another platform to complete the shunt.
But he had moved back onto the tracks, probably to shut the open connecting door to the carriage left behind and tidy up some loose connections, as the locomotive pulled the other coach away.
But then the S15 steam engine, which had been reversing away with the Great Western coach attached to the front of the locomotive, suddenly started going forward again - back towards the carriages it had just left behind on Platform Four.
The hearing was told Mr Lund, of Burney Close, Beverley, had his back to the oncoming engine and would have had no idea what was about to happen.
Much of the communication had been done with hand signals between the driver, who could not see Mr Lund, and the fireman, who could.
This was normal practice because the driver had to stay on the side of the cab where his controls were, the jury heard.
Mr Ash, a retired British Rail worker who had spent all his life on the railways, said; “The next thing I knew it was going the opposite way.
“I shouted ‘It’s reversed itself.’ I slapped the emergency brake on and turned the reverser on.
“I never even thought Mr Lund had gone back between the coaches. I thought he was going over to Platform Three.
“I was more concerned we were going to collide with the carriages we has just come off. But we didn’t. We stopped in a fraction of an inch and there was no impact.
“I reversed. The fireman asked ‘Is the guard on your side?’ I said ‘No. He’ll be on platform three.”
But when he got down from the footplate to check he found Mr Lund suspended between the two coaches with his legs dangling down.
The carriages had actually locked back together again, causing devastating injuries.
He rang the signal man Alistair Dalgleish on a track side phone. “At first, he said ‘Is this a joke?’ Or something to that effect. I said ‘This is an emergency.’”
Mr Dalgleish said in a statement that Mr Ash told him: “Guard down. We have had an accident. The guard is trapped between the carriages.”
Mr Dalgleish added: “Norman sounded very calm at first and I thought he was joking.
“I said ‘That’s not funny’ or something like that. He said ‘No. This is serious. We need help down here’ so I dialled 999.”
Fireman Mr Preece, of Greenside Estate, Mirfield, West Yorkshire, said: “I suddenly felt the engine surge back. My instinct was to turn to the driver and shout stop. But before I had even got the word out the driver had got the brake applied.”
Home Office Pathologist Dr Nigel Cooper said: “The internal injuries were very severe, indicating extreme amounts of force from crushing.
“Death must have occurred very quickly because of the severity of his injuries.”
The cause of death were crush injuries to the chest and abdomen.
Coroner Michael Oakley was told the wheel which controlled whether the train went backwards or forwards had become unlocked or had not been locked in the first place.
After the tragedy, Mr Ash said: “I realised the wheel had slipped into forward gear.”
He could not remember if he had actually locked it or not. It was possible he had locked it and the mechanism had subsequently failed but he could not say.
“In all the time I have been on steam engines - 60 years - I have never known anything like this,” he added.
Another possibility was the loco had been in forward gear all the time, had rolled back down a slope due to gravity, then went forward as Mr Ash put on the steam.
But the driver, from Churchill Drive, Marske, strongly denied this could have caused the accident at 12.20pm on 21 May last year.
The inquest at Scarborough Town Hall, which was due to conclude tomorrow (Thursday) was told Mr Lund was a retired police officer and husband of Patricia, a retired medical laboratory scientific officer.