Heritage railway: ‘We are not responsible for Grosmont sheep deaths’

Philip Benham, managing director of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway
Philip Benham, managing director of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway

North Yorkshire Moors Railway are not to blame for the deaths of two sheep hit by a train near Grosmont, says its managing director.

The Whitby Gazette reported on March 20 claims by farmer Colin Williamson that his sheep were killed by a steam train after contractors he believed to be working for the heritage railway felled a fence, allowing the flock to escape onto the line.

At the time the article went to print, NYMR said that they were investigating the incident and could not “make a full statement of fact”.

However, Philip Benham, managing director of the railway has subsequently refuted the claims, branding the Gazette coverage as “inaccurate”.

Responding to Mr Williamson’s comments, Mr Benham said that NYMR were not to blame for the deaths because the railway line where the incident occurred is owned by Network Rail who are responsible for both the upkeep of fencing and advising train drivers of reports of animals on the line.

“The allegation of sheep being killed by ‘a speeding steam train’ is nonsense,” he added.

“Our trains are limited to 25mph, with the speed closely monitored. However, trains weigh several hundred tonnes and cannot stop on a sixpence.”

Mr Williamson had told the Gazette that he felt that no attempt had been made to slow the train down or avoid hitting his sheep, describing the actions of the driver of the steam engine as “callous and uncalled for.”

Mr Benham denied that any of the railway’s drivers would act in such a manner.

“No engine driver would deliberately ignore the sighting of sheep or any other animals on the line, and our driver most certainly did not,” he continued.

“He had recevied no report about the sheep, and only observed them at a short distance when coming round a curve, sadly being unable to stop in time.”

Mr Benham added that NYMR takes its responsibilities to local landowners very seriously and said that it is “always a matter of concern on the rare occasions when a sheep is hit by one of our trains.”

He went on to say that NYMR carry out hundreds of hours of work every year in maintaining fences alongside their line to minimise the potential problem of animals getting on to the track.