Only one passenger was injured and not seriously when the Transport for Wales (TfW) train – which was made up of three two-car Sprinter units – was travelling at around 60mph when it struck the mini digger near Craven Arms at around 10.30pm on Sunday, causing major fire damage to the first two units. The damage closed the railway between Shrewsbury and Hereford until Tuesday morning.
The digger is believed to have been stolen from a nearby rental yard before being abandoned on the line. British Transport Police has launched a major criminal investigation and appeal for information about the incident.
Officers say the incident could have led to serious injuries or even fatalities, and the driver and conductor have been praised for getting the 60 passengers off the train safely.
The damage to the trains will take several months to repair, leaving Transport for Wales with four fewer carriages to use across the whole Wales and Borders network. Sprinter trains are the only trains used on many routes by the operator, including those in the valleys in South Wales.
As a result of this and ongoing work on the railway, TfW is running a reduced service across the valleys network for the next few days, including no trains on the City Line.
Colin Lea, Transport for Wales’ Planning and Performance Director, said: “We’re hugely relieved that the incident at Craven Arms was not more severe. The quick actions of our driver and conductor ensured the trains were safely evacuated, and many colleagues across TfW and Network Rail worked hard to reopen the line as quickly as possible once forensic investigations were complete.
“The impact of this serious criminal act will however continue to be felt for some time. The loss of two trains will make it far more challenging to provide additional capacity for busy services over the next few months, particularly for this summer’s major events at the Principality Stadium such as the Stereophonics and Tom Jones concerts in June.
“We’re working with our industry partners to source any additional trains available to cover for the damaged units, and hope to be able to announce a temporary arrangement soon. In the meantime, we strongly advise customers check before they travel and use our Capacity Checker – an online tool that allows customers to see which trains are likely to have the most space available.”
Detective Chief Inspector Sam Blackburn, from BTP’s Major, Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said: “While we are at early stage of our investigation, we are confident this fire was a result of the attempted theft of two mini diggers which then ended up on the tracks.
“Any obstruction to the railway is extremely dangerous and can easily result in serious injuries or fatalities, so we are taking this incident very seriously and working hard to hold those responsible to account.
“In this case, the collision with the mini digger resulted in a fuel leak which has then ignited. We are working closely with the Environment Agency to ensure the fuel is contained and any risk to the environment is minimised.”
“I would like to appeal to anyone who may have information to get in touch with us as soon as possible by texting 61016 or calling 0800 40 50 40 quoting reference 665 of 22/05/22.”