UNION officials fear Hatfield Colliery could be ‘dragged under’ by the massive cost of fixing the moving spoilheap - which is estimated to be costing Network Rail more than half a million pounds a week.
It is too early to say who will pick up the huge bill for repairing the wrecked Doncaster to Thorne rail line, and moving hundreds of thousands of tons of coal waste to a different site.
But rail industry experts reckon the disruption to train journeys is already costing Network Rail over £500,000 every week.
The firm operating Hatfield pit, Hargreaves Services, is understood to have public liability insurance but no-one can say if the insurers will stump up the entire cost of restitution, which is bound to be many millions.
National Union of Mineworkers’ leaders fear the soaring cost could financially cripple the viability of the pit, which was struggling even before the natural disaster struck at the start of last week.
Since February 10/11 the landslip has forced its way across the railway trackbed, twisting the rails and sleepers - and the earth has not yet stopped moving.
Chris Kitchen, national secretary of the NUM, who has met Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband to discuss the situation, said: “It’s a fact that this is not helping the pit.
“Our members are concentrating on the job of getting coal out of the ground, and leaving the management and experts to sort out the tip problem, but if the costs of the repairs have to be borne by the colliery it could drag it under.
“They’ve got an insurance policy which will cover a certain amount of money but we are not privy to the details. We just hope it gets sorted out.
“If it’s an ongoing problem that could have an impact on the pit for 12 to 18 months, there could be long protracted litigation about the cost.
“If we find the bill isn’t all covered by insurance and the pit has to stand some of it, and that amount has to be paid as a one-off sum rather than instalments, that could shut the pit.”
Mr Kitchen said moving spoilheaps at collieries were ‘not unusual’ but this one had become notorious because of the damage caused to the railway.
A spokesman for Hargreaves Services said the assessment of the problem was still going on and it was ‘very complicated’.
“We are a long, long way from determining who will pay the cost and it will be some time before we know,” he said. “The main priority is stabilising the heap.”
Train services between Doncaster and Goole and Scunthorpe have been replaced by buses, adding about an hour to journey times.
Network Rail says it is too early to assess the total cost of the repair operation, which will take at least eight weeks after the landslip has stabilised.
A spokesman said: “We hope to have a clearer idea by the end of the week.
“Obviously there will be legal discussions on liability with the colliery. It would be inappropriate to go into more detail at this stage as the priority is stabilising the heap and getting the fix done so we can restore full rail services.”
The track firm is currently paying train operators to fund additional staff, road transport and other costs.