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Wednesday, June 23, 1999 Published at 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK


Train driver averts disaster

The express locomotive was thrown into the air

A train driver has prevented a major disaster by braking seconds before his express ploughed into another train.

Thirty-one people were hurt when the London to Glasgow Virgin Rail train collided with an stationary local train on a line near Winsford station in Cheshire at 0852 BST on Wednesday.

[ image:  ]
But the Virgin train was braking for about 10 seconds before impact, slowing down from about 110mph to nearer 50mph.

The Chief Executive of Virgin Trains, Chris Green, said: "The heroic actions of our driver undoubtedly prevented a major and life-threatening incident from occurring.

Kevin Bocquet reports: "The crash was caused by signal failure or human error"
"While travelling at up to 110mph, he immediately took every course of emergency action to bring the train to a stop as safely as possible, preventing far more serious injuries to passengers and crew alike."

The locomotive of the rush-hour express was thrown into the air by the impact, and four carriages were derailed.

BBC North of England Correspondent John Thorne: "The carriage opened like a tin of sardines"
Fire crews who were among the first at the scene reported that passengers' injuries ranging from whiplash and abdominal injuries to burns from hot drinks thrown around by the impact.

Investigation opened

An investigation has been launched by Railtrack and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into how the empty four-carriage First North Western train was in the path of the 0635 London Euston to Glasgow Central service. The two likely explanations are signal failure or human error.

BBC Transport Correspondent Simon Montague: "Railtrack promises to get to bottom of incident"
The Transport Minister, Helen Liddell, has demanded an urgent report from the HSE.

Private Lee Toplis, 21, a soldier on his way home from service in Kosovo to see his father in Maryport, Cumbria, said: "I was just chatting to the women in front of me when I felt the train slow down to about 50mph.

[ image: Private Lee Toplis:
Private Lee Toplis: "There were no screams or crying"
"Suddenly I was thrown forward across the table as we hit the other train."

Pte Toplis, a driver with the Royal Logistical Corps, added: "Everyone seemed OK. They were all very calm. Some people had been thrown forward to the front of the train, but no one had been seriously hurt and there were no screams or crying."

'Everyone was remarkably fortunate'

Air ambulances took the injured to Leighton Hospital near Crewe, from where most were discharged following treatment. Five are being detained overnight.

A Cheshire ambulance service spokesman said: "Given the account of what happened, everyone has been remarkably fortunate.

"If the stationary train had been full of passengers there could have been many fatalities."

[ image: Investigators spent the day at the scene]
Investigators spent the day at the scene
The driver of the regional train escaped with a bump to the head.

Rail services on the West Coast main line have been seriously disrupted.

A Railtrack spokesman said: "The operation to get the line restored is now under way but we think realistically it's going to be between 24 and 48 hours - at the earliest tomorrow but possibly the day after.

"There's a fair bit of track damage and damage to the overhead lines. The lines will have to be removed before the coaches, which are a complete write-off, can be taken away."

'I just wanted to protect my passengers'

Virgin said later that its driver, Roy Eccles, 56, from north London, had been taken to hospital after injuring a leg jumping down from his cab as he went to help other passengers and secure the line.

"Richard Branson has spoken to him in hospital and he has said that he feels very embarrassed, that he is no hero and that he was just doing his job," said a Virgin spokesman.

In a statement, Mr Eccles said: "I'm not a hero, I just did my job.... it was what any other driver would've done.

"I just wanted to protect my passengers and I'm glad that no-one was seriously injured."

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