Potters Bar rail accidents

There have been at least three railway accidents in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, England, one in 1898, one in 1946 and the latest in 2002.


On 19 March 1898, the 7:50 p.m train from Hatfield to King's Cross ran past the signals at danger when it reached Potters Bar. The train cut through the catch points and buffers and crashed onto the platform. The front part of the engine was smashed and the leading coach wrecked. No one was killed. The driver, fireman and guard narrowly escaped injury. Some passengers complained of being shaken but were able to go home. [1][2]


On 16 May 1898 the Earl of Strafford was killed in an accident at Potters Bar railway station when he was hit by an express train. He appeared from witnesses to step in front of the train from the bottom of the slope at then end of the platform, he was carried for 50 yards.[3] The coroner's court investigated his medical conditions where he was prone to catalepsy, they also considered suicide, the jury returned a verdict that the death was due to misadventure.[3]


On 10 February 1946, a local passenger train travelling towards Kings Cross hit a set of buffers at Potters Bar station and the derailed carriages fouled the main line. Two express trains travelling in opposite directions then hit the wreckage. Two passengers were killed and the 17 injured were taken to hospital. The driver of the local train was eventually held to blame but a signalman was found to have contributed to the accident by changing a set of points as the train passed over them.[2][4]


Potters Bar rail crash (2002)

A Class 365, the same type of train involved in the accident
Date 10 May 2002
Time 12:58 BST
Location Potters Bar, Hertfordshire
Coordinates 51°41′49″N 0°11′38″W / 51.697°N 0.194°W / 51.697; -0.194Coordinates: 51°41′49″N 0°11′38″W / 51.697°N 0.194°W / 51.697; -0.194
Country England
Rail line East Coast Main Line
Operator West Anglia Great Northern
Cause Faulty set of points
Trains 1
Passengers 151
Deaths 7
Injuries 76
List of UK rail accidents by year

On 10 May 2002 a northbound train derailed at high speed, killing seven and injuring 76.[5] Part of the train ended up wedged between the station platforms and building structures.


A West Anglia Great Northern train service left King's Cross station at 12:45 bound for King's Lynn in Norfolk, via Cambridge. At 12:55, travelling at 97 mph, the four-car Class 365 Electric multiple unit (unit number: 365526) crossed over a set of points "2182A" just south of Potters Bar railway station. As the train travelled over the points, they moved,[6] causing the rear bogie of the third carriage[7] and the whole of the fourth carriage to derail. This caused the fourth carriage to become detached and cross onto the adjacent line where it flipped into the air. The momentum carried the carriage into the station, where one end of the carriage struck Darkes Lane bridge parapet,[7] sending debris onto the road below. It then mounted the platform and slid along before coming to rest under the platform canopy at 45 degrees. The front three carriages remained on the rails, and came to a stand to approximately 400 metres north of the station following an automatic operation of the brakes.[7]

Six of the victims were travelling on board the train, while a seventh, Agnes Quinlivan, was killed by masonry falling from the bridge over Darkes Lane.


The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report released in May 2003 found that the points were poorly maintained and that this was the principal cause of the accident.[8] The bolts that held the stretcher bars that keep the rails apart had come loose or gone missing, resulting in the points moving while the train passed over them. The points had been fully inspected on 1 May by a team working for the private railway maintenance firm Jarvis and there had been a further visual inspection on 9 May the day before the crash, with no problems reported. However, that evening, a WAGN station announcer was travelling on the down fast line[7] and reported a "rough ride"[7] at Potters Bar whilst going over that same place on the track, point "2182A". A Railtrack engineering supervisor[7] was sent to make an inspection, but due to an apparent misunderstanding by the Kings Cross signal box staff,[7] he was sent to the wrong line, the up fast line,[7] to check the track and points and did not find the "loose nuts" that subsequently led to the accident.

Initially after the accident, Jarvis claimed that the points' poor condition was due to sabotage of some sort,[9] and that its maintenance was not to blame. No solid evidence of any sabotage has ever come to light, and the HSE report found that other sets of points in the Potters Bar area showed similar, less-serious maintenance deficiencies and the poor state of maintenance "probably arose from a failure to understand fully the design and safety requirements".

Further investigations by the HSE found that heavy and constant vibrations on the stretcher bars and their bolts caused them in turn to vibrate and oscillate until their nuts literally fell off the bolts. These have since been replaced by two-part locking nuts instead of the main nuts having half-size locking nuts to hold them in place.

In November 2010, the Office of Rail Regulation said Network Rail and Jarvis Rail would be charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act. The case was heard at Watford Magistrates' Court in February 2011.


The tragedy sparked a debate about whether private maintenance firms were paying too little attention to training and safety. In 2003, Network Rail announced it was taking all track maintenance in-house, ending the use of private contractors except for large-scale renewal or development projects.[10]

On 28 April 2004, Jarvis sent a letter to the victims' families, admitting liability for the accident. The company said that it would formally accept "legally justified claims" after making a financial provision of £3,000,000.[11]

In the letter Kevin Hyde, chief executive, wrote:

"In the aftermath of the crash, when Jarvis was under great pressure to explain itself, we were drawn into a debate about the possible causes of the crash. On behalf of the company and my colleagues, I would like to apologise for the hurt and anger our actions in responding caused."

A circular memorial plate was erected on platform 3 of the station, dedicated to the seven fatalities of the Potters Bar crash.

On 13 May 2011, Network Rail was fined £3 million for safety failings related to the crash.[12]

List of people killed

Agnes Quinlivan was a nearby pedestrian, all other fatalities were in the rear carriage of the train.

See also


  1. "Smash-up at Potters Bar". Reynolds's Newspaper, Sunday 20 March 1898, p. 4. "19th Century British Library Newspapers Database", British Library
  2. 1 2 PBHistory.co.uk | Railway Crashes
  3. 1 2 "The Death of Lord Strafford". The Times (35833). London. 19 May 1899. p. 8.
  4. Rail crash officials will not face manslaughter charges (retrieved 25 March 2010)
  5. Office of Rail Regulation: Potters Bar interim report (Retrieved 23 February 2011)
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 National Archives: Coroners inquest into the Potters Bar Derailment, Tuesday 1 June (Retrieved 30 May 2016)
  7. "Train derailment at Potters Bar 10 May 2002 – A progress report by the HSE Investigation Board" (PDF). Health & Safety Executive. May 2003.
  8. Sabotage: rail firm's crash theory Andrew Clark, The Guardian, 18 May 2002, www.guardian.co.uk
  9. "Network Rail takes repairs in-house". BBC News. 24 October 2003.
  10. Clark, Andrew (28 April 2004). "Jarvis admits liability for Potters Bar crash". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  11. "Network Rail fined £3m over Potters Bar crash". BBC News. 13 May 2011.
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