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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 27 July, 1999, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
Southall: The crash that killed seven
The scene of the crash at Southall
Carnage: The scene of the crash at Southall
The 10.32am express from Swansea to Paddington was full to capacity as it sped towards London on 19 September 1997.

As the locomotive thundered through Southall station at 125mph, some of the 480 passengers began collecting their luggage.

Just 10 minutes from their final destination, they were planning to leave swiftly and beat the crowd.

Red signal missed

At the head of the train, driver Larry Harrison was filled with a similar sense of urgency as he glanced down to pack his bag. As he did, the train hurtled past a red signal.

Seconds later the eight-carriage Great Western-run train smashed into the side of a goods locomotive that had been crossing its path. The impact derailed four packed carriages, crushing many of those inside.

Seven people were killed and more than 150 were injured, some of them seriously.

The death toll was the worst in nine years, since the Clapham Rail disaster in which 35 people died.

Warning system off

It later transpired that an in-cab automatic warning system, recommended by the Clapham inquiry, had been fitted to the Southall train but was not operating.

Survivors of the crash described scenes of mayhem and carnage.

Some had to dodge live electricity cables and step over dead bodies as they made their way to safety.

Victims cut from wreckage

"As I walked off the train, I saw a body lying by the side of the tracks," said BBC researcher Nick Sutton, who was returning from the Welsh devolution vote the day before.

"His shirt was ripped and there was blood all over him. Everyone was shocked."

Fire crews used cutting equipment to free 16 passengers who were trapped in the twisted metal. Nearby hospitals were put on emergency alert and extra blood supplies were brought in.

Controversial inquiry

Within a short time crash investigators were scouring the scene - the first step in a protracted attempt to find out what went wrong and why.

The result, which culminated on Tuesday with a 1.5m fine against Great Western Trains, has been little comfort to relatives of the dead and injured.

Earlier this month manslaughter charges against 52-year-old Mr Harrison, and the train operator were dropped. The case was judged "not applicable" under current legislation.

The collapse of the case brought further criticism of the CPS for its handling of the case. It had already been attacked for a delay in bringing charges, which were maid in December 1998.

This in turn has put back the public inquiry into the crash until September this year.

Speaking after the manslaughter ruling, solicitor Desmond Collins, who represents more than 40 victims of the disaster, said "absolutely nothing" had been achieved.

"The truth is, in fact, that there can be no possible justification for the indecision and delay that have been the hallmarks of this investigation," he said.


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