RAIL passengers were “dicing with death” after a six-inch gap was found in a railway line, it has been claimed.

The damaged rail, on the East Coast Mainline near Selby, meant railway bosses were “risking another major rail tragedy”, according to Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT. But rail managers have insisted teh incident was managed safely.

A picture of the damaged rail, taken last week shows the gap at the Hambleton South Junction, where normal running speed for trains is 125mph, and the union said the damage could have been in place for up to two weeks.

Mr Crow said: “This shocking new picture highlights the reality on Britain’s railways today – staffing, inspections and track renewals have been cut in the dash to save money and there is massive pressure right from the top of Government to keep services running at all costs regardless of the potential human cost. If we don’t reverse the cuts on Britain’s railways another major tragedy is inevitable.

“We are now facing exactly the same set of poisonous conditions that led us to the Hatfield disaster and as this picture, following on from similar evidence exposed by RMT late last year, shows we are dicing with death and risking another major rail tragedy.”

Reg French, from the Selby and District Rail Users Group (SADRUG), said he was particularly worried as his son is a train driver who travels on that line at 125mph.

He said: “Obviously, it’s disturbing because this is the second time this has been a problem on that line.

“My other concern is that it originally was seen not as a six-inch gap, but as a dip or problem to be resolved, and as far as I can gather, it looks as if the works were done a little bit late.”

A Network Rail spokeswoman said a “dip” in the track had first been identified at Hambleton on January 17, with repairs scheduled to take place on February 2, the day after the picture was taken.

She said: “Unfortunately the track deteriorated more quickly than is to be expected and, on discovering the broken rail, all traffic was stopped immediately while a repair was carried out. This incident was managed within all safety standards and was in no way affected by changes to staffing levels. Safety issues will never be compromised in the name of managing costs.”