Two vandals who admitted deliberately placing objects on the railway line at Dosthill, Tamworth, Staffordshire, almost causing a train travelling at 95mph to derail, have been jailed for a total of eight-and-a-half years following an investigation by British Transport Police (BTP).
Richard Stephen John Hamilton, 21, and Ashley Michael Leedham, 18, both from Kingsbury, Tamworth, pleaded guilty to malicious obstruction of the railway with intent to endanger safety when they appeared at Warwick Crown Court on Tuesday 15 June.
The incident happened at around 11.30pm on Thursday 18 March 2010 when the driver of the 23.09hrs Birmingham New Street to Nottingham service reported striking concrete blocks and other debris that had been piled 4ft high on the line near Cadogan Road, south of Wilnecote rail station.
BTP officers investigating the incident said it could have led to serious injury or even the deaths of passengers or members of the train crew.
The driver of the CrossCountry service managed to bring his train to a halt after hitting the objects, which included concrete posts, wooden pallets and bags of cement. No one was injured but the driver was left extremely shaken.
The train, which was travelling at around 95mph at the time of impact and had about 50 passengers on board, suffered severe damage and had to be taken out of service, causing delays and inconvenience to passengers and the rail network.
BTP set up an incident room at Wales and Western Area headquarters in Birmingham and launched a major inquiry – Operation Rope – which resulted in the swift arrest of Hamilton and Leedham.
Speaking to police afterwards, the driver of the train which struck the debris described how he felt the train lift from the tracks after impact and believed it was about to derail.
He said: “I thought my time was up. I thought the train had come off the rails as it was juddering violently. I then remember seeing a road bridge going over the railway lines and I remember shouting to myself ‘Oh no’.
“I thought the train was going to hit the bridge and that I was going to die.
“Images of my children, my family and people close to me flashed before me and I thought I would never see them again.”
Thankfully, the train did not derail and eventually came to a halt just under half a mile from the point of impact.
BTP officers and emergency railway personnel attended the scene and found that objects including concrete posts, wooden pallets and bags of post-mixed concrete and cement had been placed across the railway lines.
These materials had been left in the area by railway contractors in preparation for maintenance work that was scheduled to take place in the Winecote area.
Rail staff who cleared the debris from the line after the incident estimated that around 30 concrete posts, each weighing 20kg, more than a dozen bags of cement and two wooden pallets had been used by Hamilton and Leedham to build the obstruction.
When interviewed by police, Hamilton and Leedham both initially denied any involvement and claimed to be elsewhere at the time of the incident. However, both gave differing accounts of where they had been and what they had been doing on that evening.
After being shown CCTV images and when further evidence was put to them, both changed their stories and admitted playing a part in causing the obstruction, although each played down his involvement and accused the other of instigating event and taking the lead role.
Chief Inspector Allan Gregory, of British Transport Police, said: “It is a matter of sheer luck that no-one was seriously injured in this incident.
“The reality is that we could have been left dealing with mass casualties or even, in a worst case scenario, fatalities.
“BTP launched a thorough investigation into the incident with an incident room set up at Wales and Western Area headquarters in Birmingham.
“This helped lead to the swift arrests of Hamilton and Leedham who, after initially flatly denying any involvement, pleaded guilty when confronted by the evidence gathered by BTP officers.”
At Warwick Crown Court today, Hamilton was jailed for four-and-a-half years and Leedham for four years.
Network Rail route director, Jo Kaye, said: “This was a ludicrous thing to do and could easily have resulted in passengers or the train crew being killed.
“It is good to know that the judicial system has recognised the seriousness of the case in the sentences they have given.
“I hope this acts as a lesson to anyone else who may be inclined to carry out such reckless acts.”