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