A DISASTER was narrowly avoided after a stolen tractor crashed into a railway bridge, causing debris to fall into the path of an oncoming train.

At around 9.30pm on Friday night, the nine-tonne tractor smashed into the bridge at Abbotswood, near Worcester, and was left hanging over the edge - just minutes before a train heading from Cardiff to Birmingham New Street passed through, hitting the debris.

The impact of the crash damaged 25-metres of the Victorian wall and left debris scattered on the tracks below, however the train was not de-railed and no-one was injured.

Police are now searching for the thief, who was seen running from the tractor which was stolen from Wheatlands Farm in Drakes Broughton, near Pershore.

He is described as a white man in his early twenties, wearing a purple, hooded top and dark bottoms.

Anthony Smith, who works at Wheatlands Farm and had been chasing the vehicle, said the whole incident was "unbelievable".

The 57-year-old said: "He hit the bridge which spun the tractor round and knocked the wall down. It was a big bang.

"If he had been going any faster he would have landed on the railway. He was inches from going over.

"All that fell down landed on the tracks - it was the whole wall. About ten minutes later, a train came through.

"Everybody turned their backs and walked off the bridge and hoped for the best and it went through with clouds of dust.

"The trains are quite fast up there and it is a long stretch so if the tractor had gone over there would have been a major mess.

"It is just unbelievable really, that somebody would actually do that. Why would he do it?"

The emergency services, along with Network Rail staff and a recovery team from Auto Support Ltd, worked through the night to remove the tractor, clear the debris and make the bridge safe.

The railway line was re-opened at around 9.51am the following morning, but passengers faced disruption for much of the morning.

The tractor, thought to be worth around £35,000, had a four metre wide piece of rotary machinery attached to the back, which Mr Smith said could barely fit over the bridge.

He had been working at the farm earlier that day and was at home in nearby Wadborough when he was called by his boss's son to help stop the thief.

He gave chase in his pickup truck and followed behind the tractor, which was travelling at around seven miles an hour and weaving across the road.

"I was just thinking: 'How do I stop him?'," remembered Mr Smith. "It was a case of following and waiting for the police to come."

The thief escaped from the back window of the tractor and ran away in the director of Littleton, according to Mr Smith, who again followed in pursuit.

Thomas Harbinson, who lives close to the bridge, said: "It was about 9.15pm on Friday, we heard this crunch.

"It just sounded like really loud machinery. It was lodged into the wall, part of it was hanging off."

A spokesperson for Network Rail said: "A tractor, believed to be stolen, hit and demolished the parapet above a railway bridge, causing debris to fall onto the track below.

"Following the incident, a train travelling from Cardiff to Birmingham New Street hit the debris at 9.30pm yesterday evening.

"There were no injuries and the train was not derailed, but did sustain some damage."

Anyone who may have witnessed the incident or who may have any information is urged to call West Mercia Police on 101 quoting incident number 773 of 13th May.

Alternatively contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or via its website crimestoppers-uk.org