Second train 'minutes away' from hitting crash wreckage

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A SECOND train was just minutes from disaster as it narrowly avoided ploughing into the Cumbria rail crash wreckage, it emerged today.

A train travelling from Scotland to England managed to stop just a couple of hundred yards from where the Glasgow-bound Virgin Pendolino left the track on Friday night.

Had it hit the wreckage the death and injury toll of one fatality and six serious injuries would have been far worse.

The RMT union revealed the lucky escape as it was confirmed that the crash investigation would focus on a pair of emergency points to the south of the scene of the accident.

With disruption between Carlisle and Preston and Lancaster likely to continue for more than a week, initial reports suggest that crucial bolts had come loose from the points used to divert trains on to the other track during maintenance. This is a chilling echo of what happened at the Potters Bar rail crash outside London in May 2002.

Investigators now doubt that sabotage was responsible although police are looking at claims by the Scottish National Liberation Army that they were looking to cause chaos on Anglo-Scottish rail lines in the near future.

But the news that a second train could have hit the wreckage will cause most alarm at the top of the rail industry.

John Tilley of the RMT rail union said that the second passenger train was minutes away from hitting the coaches on the track at Grayrigg near Oxenholme in the Lake District.

He said: "Lucky it stopped a couple of hundred yards up the track when the driver was alerted to the crash.

"But there was literally minutes in it. There could have been carnage."

However, while the state of the points is the focus of the investigation, the state of the new Virgin Pendolino train has been praised.

The safety features and strong construction of the train is said by experts to have saved further casualties.

And it is expected to be fit to return to service after repairs.

In Friday's accident on the packed 5.15pm London Euston to Glasgow train, 84-year-old Margaret Masson died, her daughter Margaret Langley, 61, and son-in-law, Richard, 63, were among six serious injuries and five of the other 60 hurt are still in hospital in Lancashire and Cumbria.

The driver of the express, Ian Black, is recovering in hospital after being hailed as a hero for staying in his cab to control the engine of the train as carriages jackknifed around him.

Already more than 700 checks have been completed on points across the UK rail network but two signal technicians responsible for checking the points at Grayrigg not far from Kendal are among several Network Rail workers due to be interviewed by police and investigators.

The track was inspected three weeks ago, Network Rail's chief executive John Armitt revealed today, but should have been checked at least once if not twice since.

These weekly checks take place visually and there is a full mechanical survey every 13 weeks.

But Mr Armitt today said he was confident that proper checks had taken place and that the Network Rail staff conducting them were fully qualified and able to do the job properly.

Today's report will not draw firm conclusions but will make immediate safety recommendations, indicate the initial assessments of what happened and give a direction for the inquiry to continue in the future.