Barns Green railway crossing inquest: Train passengers tell of crash horror

Emergency services at Emms Lane crossing SUS-180503-101258001
Emergency services at Emms Lane crossing SUS-180503-101258001

Passengers on board a train which hit a car on a level crossing killing a teenager and his grandad have spoken out about what they saw.

They told an inquest into the deaths of 15-year-old Will Hallett and his grandfather Barry Hearnshaw, 71, they heard a loud noise and saw a ball of flames as the train came to a halt.

Barry had been giving his grandson Will a lift to a football match in his Kia Rio car when the crash happened at Barns Green level crossing at 8.38 am on February 17 last year.

Train passenger Joseph Waniszyn was on his way home to Pulborough from working in London. “I heard a noise then saw a flash of flame at the side of the train. I thought the train had come off the rails,” he said.

Another passenger, air hostess Olivia Bhatlacharjee, said she heard a thud before seeing a ball of flame. “I was in a panic. I didn’t know what we hit.”

Earlier, in a statement read out at the hearing, train driver Mark Taylor said he had seen a ‘flash of blue’ just seconds before his train hit the car. “There was a big explosion and a ball of smoke and flames obscured my view.”

Jurors heard that the automatic half barriers and warning lights on the crossing had been working normally before the crash.

British Transport Police officer DC Paul Doorbar said: “Because there were no independent witnesses it has been difficult to come to understand how this accident happened or why it happened.”

The inquest heard that a train data storage ‘black box’ had been destroyed in the fire that followed the crash.

Christopher Ford, of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, said there was ‘strong evidence’ that the barriers and warning lights had been working normally, but there was no definitive proof.

He said there was no evidence that the car had struck the barrier. “We have to conclude that the car entered the crossing on the right hand side of the road.”

However, relatives of the victims questioned whether there could have been a signal failure or other fault. They said there were instances of such since the crash, around last Christmas and again earlier this month.

Consultant pathologist Dr Ali Alhakim said both Will and Barry would have died instantly. Barry, he said, died from multiple injuries and Will died from a head injury.

When questioned by relatives, the doctor agreed he could not rule out Barry having suffered a stroke or heart problem at the wheel of the car, but said there was no ‘acute heart attack.’

Earlier, the inquest heard that Barry was a careful driver and would not have consciously put the life of his grandson or his own at risk.

Will’s mum Jilly, in a statement, called for the barriers to be made safer. She said she was appalled that the crossing was back in action soon after the accident. “I make a point of not using it. I am very concerned that they have not installed full barriers,” she said.

The hearing continues.