These incredible pictures show a car thief driving through the barriers of a level crossing while on the run from police just seconds before a high-speed train thunders past.
Terence Fowler, 20, went on the run in a stolen red Mercedes after an unmarked police patrol car indicated for him to pull over.
He led officers on a frantic chase through heavy traffic and hit speeds of up to 90mph as he crossed onto the wrong side of the road to avoid speed cameras.
After a six mile pursuit Fowler approached a level crossing and accelerated through the closed barriers – smashing them into pieces.
Stunned police officers, who filmed the chase on CCTV, screeched to a halt before watching a train hurtle over the crossing at 75mph just 11 seconds later.
Fowler, of March, Cambs., was jailed for three-a-half years at Peterborough Crown Court on Thursday after admitting dangerous driving, aggravated vehicle taking, criminal damage and obstructing an engine.
Judge Nic Madge said: ”It is hard to think of more dangerous driving which did not cause injury.
”You were extremely lucky. You were seconds away from a fatal collision with a train in which many people, including yourself, would have been killed or injured.
”In other words, if you had survived you were seconds away from a sentence of life imprisonment.
”I do not sentence you for what might have happened but for what you actually did.
”But I bear in mind it was a frightening experience for the train driver who saw the car flash across the level crossing moments in front of his train.”
Police began searching for Fowler on June 20 last year after a red Mercedes he had borrowed from a friend to give a pregnant woman a lift was reported stolen.
When an unmarked police car signalled for Fowler to pull over in the centre of Peterborough, Cambs., he sped off through heavy traffic.
Officers gave chase as he swerved around cars and dodged oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road at speeds of up to 90mph.
After a six mile chase Fowler arrived at King’s Dyke level crossing in Whittlesey, Cambs., where he ploughed through the barriers at high speed.
The crash left debris scattered across the tracks and just 11 seconds later a 120-tonne train from Stansted to Birmingham went through the junction travelling at 75mph.
The pursuit was caught on CCTV mounted in the police car.
Fowler was arrested in August last year after Dorset police charged him with assault and found his DNA matched blood found on the windscreen of the abandoned Mercedes.
The court heard evidence from the driver of the train and a signalman who described the near-miss.
He said: ”The first thing that went through my mind was: ‘The train is going to derail and there is nothing I can do’. I was genuinely frightened for myself and the train.”
The court heard that it cost £29,852.50 to repair the barriers and caused 476 minutes delay to trains in the Peterborough area, costing the train company £5,231.55.
Caroline Allison, defending Fowler, revealed that her client hopes to join the Navy upon his release from prison.
She said: ”I do not wish to detract from what is clearly a prolonged and very dangerous piece of driving.
”He does appreciate how scared people were and how serious these offences are.”
Fowler was sentenced to serve 16-months concurrently in a young offenders institute for aggravated vehicle taking, dangerous driving and obstructing an engine.
For the criminal damage he was sentenced to three-and-a-half years, also to run concurrently.
Fowler has also been disqualified from driving for three years, had his licence endorsed and will have to sit an extended driving test.
Speaking after the case Detective inspector Michael Branston, who led the investigation for Cambridgeshire Constabulary, told how it was ”lucky” no one died during the chase.
He said: ”Fowler showed total disregard for other road users, pedestrians and rail passengers as he tried to evade being caught by police.
”His actions put many lives at risk and he was lucky not to have been killed.”