Railway volunteer’s death was “accident”

The scene of the accident at Grosmont
The scene of the accident at Grosmont

THE North Yorkshire Moors Railway faces a “substantial” claim for damages over what a coroner called the “really tragic death” of a volunteer guard following a “moment of forgetfulness” by an engine driver.

The jury hearing the case of the father-of-one crushed to death between two coaches on the preserved railway at Grosmont ruled on Thursday 31 February that his death was an accident.

After the verdict victim Bob Lund’s widow Patricia said; “It was a comfort that he died doing something he loved and enjoyed.

“The verdict was what we expected.”

However, family solicitor Kevin Hughes said; “The verdict reinforces our view that a civil claim is likely to produce substantial damages.

“We have made a claim and it is being considered by the railway’s insurers. I am happy to say we’re going to claim for damages on behalf of the family and dependants.”

Coroner Michael 0akley said retired policeman Bob Lund (65) was partly a victim of “a moment of forgetfulness” by train driver Norman Ash in “not locking the reversing gear”.

But Mr Lund had also broken the rules by going back on to the tracks while Mr Ash’s S15 steam loco was still reversing away, with the Great Western carriage attached to the front of the engine.

The hearing at Scarborough Town Hall has been told that Mr Lund was standing with his back turned working on the carriage that had been left behind during the shunting operation when tragedy struck.

Mr Ash’s engine suddenly started going forward again - heading back to the line of carriages he had just left behind at Grosmont Station, near Whitby.

Summing up the two day hearing for the jury, Mr Oakley said: “They found Mr Lund literally squashed between the two coaches.

“Death would have been very rapid. The whole incident has been investigated by the Railway Accident Investigation Board.

“We have heard from several witnesses that to prevent a forward movement of the locomotive it is necessary to lock the reverser gear.

“We have also heard this particular locomotive had a propensity to go into forward movement if that front gear was not locked.

“Whereas other locomotives do not have this propensity.

The Accident Board concluded the reason for this accident was the reverse gear was not locked.

“The North Yorkshire Moors Railway rule book states no one should go between vehicles for any purpose unless the vehicles are at rest.

“Strictly speaking, in this case the rule has been infringed by the diseased.

“But for all practical purposes you may think it was not unreasonable of him to enter on the line to carry out the tidying up of the carriage.”

Underlining Mr Ash was “absolutely competent”, the coroner added: “Mr Ash appears to have had a moment of forgetfulness in not locking the reverse gear.”

But at the same time Mr Lund had gone onto the tracks and it was “the combination which led to this really tragic death.”

Mr Lund, a retired Humberside officer, had worked on the railway for 16 years, qualifying as a guard in the mid-90s.

Rail company General Manager Philip Benham said that even though no fault had been found with its procedures they had learned a “tragic lesson”.

He added: “This clearly was a tragedy. It was the most traumatic event we have ever had.

“We had the greatest respect for Bob Lund. He was one of our most senior and respected volunteers.

“We used him to train others. That makes it all the more devastating.

“We have been looking at our procedures since last year. There was no evidence that failures in procedure contributed to the accident.

“But that doesn’t mean in the drive to be ever safer we can’t improve matters.

“If we can make things safer it would be a memorial to Bob Lund. We feel the verdict is a fair conclusion.

“Bob was a very able and steady person - the last person to take risks. Even the most senior railwaymen could not recall a train changing direction in this way.”

Mr Benham added: “Now we know it can happen even though it’s an extremely rare occurrence, we are focussing on ensuring our procedures guard against that.”