A RETIRED policeman was crushed to death after a locomotive slipped into the wrong gear on the world's most popular heritage steam railway, an inquest heard today.

Volunteer guard Robert Lund, 65, died almost instantly from chest and abdominal injuries after becoming trapped between carriages on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, a jury at North Yorkshire Coroners Court was told.

Mr Lund was helping shunt and uncouple carriages at at Grosmont station shortly before the incident on May 21 last year.

Another volunteer, Norman Ash, who was driving the S15 steam locomotive, said Mr Lund unhooked some coaches and signalled the driver to move away, and it is thought he returned to the area between the carriages.

However, the locomotive unexpectedly moved off in the wrong direction, Mr Ash told coroner Michael Oakley.

Mr Ash, a retired professional train driver with more than 50 years experience, said it is possible he did not lock a reversing lever into place, which could have allowed the locomotive to slip between forward and reverse.

He said: “I turned round to see which way was I was going and the next thing I knew I was going the opposite way, he said.

I slapped the emergency brake on. I was more concerned we were going to collide with the coaches we had just come off. I never even thought about Mr Lund going back between the coaches. There was no impact at all.

“At that point the fireman said to me, is the guard on your side?. I said no.”

Mr Ash said he got off the footplate and found Mr Lund trapped, but as there was no way of freeing Mr Lund he contacted the signalman and told him to call the emergency services.

Pathologist Nigel Cooper said: “I think death must have occurred very quickly due to the severity of the injuries.”

Accident investigators said the incident was highly unusual and experts had re-enacted some of the events to figure out what happened.

Chris Hall, of the Rail Accident Investigation Board, told jurors Mr Lund would have had no reason to believe the train would change direction, which was most likely caused by the driver forgetting to lock the reverse lever.

"If it was the case that he didn't apply the latch, it is probably a case of simple forgetfulness that all human beings are capable of," Mr Hall added.

The inquest will resume tomorrow (Thursday, January 31), when the jury will be sent out to consider its verdict.