Fatal fire 'was not first of its kind' says railwayman

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AN ALMOST identical fire to the one which caused the death of a passenger on an InterCity train on Friday night occurred in the early 1980s, a former railwayman has told the Independent on Sunday.

Poor maintenance rather than vandalism was yesterday thought to be the most likely cause of the blaze on the 18.30 Paddington to Swansea train which caused panic and led one man to jump to his death near Maidenhead into the path of an InterCity train travelling from Bristol. He was named as Ian Jones, a civil servant from Swindon.

The fire occurred after diesel leaked from a tank which had come loose and was ignited by sparks. As the driver brought the train to a halt, several passengers smashed windows and jumped out. They were unable to leave by the doors as these were centrally locked.

Yesterday, police investigators combed the track looking for debris and clues to the cause. A British Transport Police spokesman said: "We don't think vandalism was involved, but we have not ruled it out."

According to the former railwayman, he witnessed a fire near Reading in the early 1980s on a train heading out of London. "Vandals had put a rail on the line in such a way as to hit the fuel tank. The tank burst and spread diesel around the train, just as in Friday's incident. Fortunately the blaze was spotted by a signalman who brought the train to a stop. No one was hurt."

Accident investigators will try to establish how the fuel tank became detached. They also want to find out whether there was unnecessary delay in leading people to safety off the train and whether lack of communication contributed to the fatality.