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Probe Under Way Into Virgin Train Crash
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UK: Virgin Trains high speed train crash

  : Wednesday, June 23, 1999
A high speed train travelling at 100 mph crashed into the rear of an empty commuter train on Britain's West Coast
ITN What went wrong?
The class 87 overode the underframe of the Pacer

Main Line this morning injuring 29 people.

The express train, forming the Virgin Trains' 0635 Euston - Glasgow service was approaching Winsford station in Cheshire when the accident occurred at 0852. The train was headed by a class 87 locomotive No 87027 'Wolf of Badenoch'.

The empty train, belonging to First North Western consisted of 2 class 142 "Pacer" units Nos142008 and 142003 and was en route from Crewe to Manchester Piccadily. It had just crossed from the slow line onto the fast line on which the express was travelling.

Quick reactions by the driver of the Virgin train are believed to have averted a more serious accident. His train was moving at a speed of as much as 110 mph when he saw the empty train ahead. He was able to make an emergency application of the brakes slowing his train to about 50 mph. The locomotive overode the underframe of the rear Pacer unit and entered the passenger compartment. The roof was split from the body sides which were severely damaged. The class 87 suffered considerably less damage and the driver escaped with minor injuries. The first four carriages of the express train were derailed, but remained upright. It was in these that all the injured were travelling.

Early reports from the crash scene suggested that 45 people had been injured. It has since been announced that 29 are being treated in hospital. Initial rescue attempts were hampered as rescuers could not approach the train because the electric current had not been switched-off.

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group is reported to have visited the driver in hospital.

Separate investigations into the cause of the accident have begun. One, an internal inquiry will be led by
The accident scene near Winsford station
Railtrack and will include the operators of the trains involved. A second, independent inquiry will be undertaken by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). These inquiries will focus on the reason why the empty train crossed onto the fast line, effectively into the path of the express train.

There are several possibilities that investigators will examine. Was there a signalling fault? This may have given a driver a false indication so causing the conflicting train movement. Was it human error? It is possible that a driver may have misread a signal. The HSE inquiry is likely to examine the issue of Automatic Train Control (ATC) - a system that could stop a train automatically in the event of it passing a signal at danger - but not widely implemented on Britain's railway network.

A Railtrack spokesman told the media that it was hoped that the cause of the accident would be known "in a few weeks". The result of the HSE's investigation is likely to take considereably longer. The inquiry into the accident at Southall in December 1997 has been adjourned pending criminal prosecutions and is not scheduled to restart until September this year.

An emergency number is available for those who are concerned about relatives and friends who may have been on the train:

0870 902 0999
Earlier report:
High Speed train crash injures 29 - 23/6/99
45 injured in Virgin train crash - 23/6/99

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