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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 September 2005, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
How Hatfield changed the railways
Stephen Byers
Stephen Byers branded Railtrack a failure in the wake of the crash
On 17 October 2000, the 1210 London to Leeds express train hit a cracked rail at Hatfield, Herts, while it was travelling at 117mph.

The rail shattered and the train came off the tracks, killing four people and injuring more than 100 others.

The train split into two, with the buffet car sustaining the worst of the damage, survivors saying the roof ripped open "like a can of sardines".

The whole incident took just 17 seconds to unfold.

Out-of-court settlements

Railtrack, the company in charge of rail infrastructure, admitted liability for the tragedy and paid damages to the families of the four men who died.

The widow of executive jet pilot Stephen Arthur, 46, of West Sussex, received 1m in damages at the High Court in June 2004.

10 May 2002: Potters Bar
Seven people killed as faulty points cause a derailment
17 October 2000: Hatfield
Four die as train derails on cracked track
5 October 1999: Paddington
Thirty-one people die as two trains collide after a driver goes through a red signal
19 September 1997: Southall
Seven die when a London-Swansea service crashes into an empty freight train

New Zealander Robert Alcorn, 37 - also a pilot, Peter Monkhouse, 50, an advertising executive of Leeds, and solicitor Leslie Gray, 43, of Nottingham also died in the crash.

Their families were awarded damages earlier in out-of-court settlements.

In the months immediately following the Hatfield crash, speed restrictions were enforced across the country as thousands of miles of track was checked for faults.

Railtrack was left with a 733m bill for the repairs and compensation to train-operating companies.

The firm could not pay and was put into administration in October 2001.

Stephen Byers, transport secretary at the time, then announced Railtrack would be replaced with a not-for-profit organisation - effectively putting the railways back under public sector control.

Mr Byers called for a "fresh start" and labelled Railtrack a failure.

The Hatfield disaster was one of four fatal crashes in five years blamed on poor track maintenance or driver error.



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