Five died 'because trains had no radios': Signalman knew collision was imminent but could do nothing

THE SIGNALMAN responsible for the section of track in Kent where two trains crashed head-on, killing five people, knew for several minutes the trains would collide. He could do nothing to stop the collision because BR had failed to instal radios in the trains' cabs.

The installation of two-way radios was a key recommendation of the inquiry into the Clapham train disaster. As well as the five dead, 11 people were hurt in Saturday's crash on a single-track section of railway near Cowden on the Kent-Sussex border.

The Hidden report on the 1988 Clapham rail disaster recommended that all British Rail trains should be fitted with radios allowing two-way communication between signal boxes and drivers 'as a priority'.

BR accepted the recommendation and in a report in February 1990 to the Transport Secretary, Cecil Parkinson, the late Sir Bob Reid, chairman of BR, committed it to implementing the recommendation within five years.

But yesterday, a spokesman for Network South Central, which operates the Oxted to Uckfield branch line, said that there had been no plans to install radios in the cabs of the trains involved in the crash.

The signalman at Oxted, nine miles away from the crash, would have seen that the trains, indicated by lights on his control panel, were heading for each other. Although the trains were fitted with portable telephones, they could only be used to make outgoing calls.

A spokesman for Railtrack South said last night:'All the signs are that the signalman became aware from his signalling panel indicators that something was amiss. However, he was not in a position to communicate with the train crew to either train.'

The signalling was only five years old. The signalman would have pulled a switch and cleared the track all the way through to Ashurst for the southbound train. The crash occurred about half-way along the 26-mile branch line from Oxted to Uckfield and involved the 8am train northbound train from Uckfield and the 8.04 from Oxted.

Both were running late in thick fog. The northbound train passed a red signal to join a four-mile section of single track just north of Ashurst station. It should have waited for the southbound train in the section of double track at Ashurst. As both trains were travelling at about 30mph, it would have taken the northbound train at least three minutes to reach the point of impact, and the signalman might well have had time to warn the crews if the trains had been fitted with a radio.

A regular commuter said that many of the drivers no longer even carried out-going telephones. Mike Skinner, a county councillor for Uckfield, said: 'Late last month I was on a train which got stopped for a long time at a red signal and the driver said that he had no way of communicating with the signal box to find out why it was red.'

Yesterday, accident investigators were still at the site as the the body of one of the drivers, David Rees, 49, was finally removed. The other driver and the guard in the northbound train also died in the crash.

BR refused to speculate on whether the guard who died was in the driver's cab or in the guard's compartment just behind it, at the time of the crash.

The train was fitted with an automatic warning system that sounds a horn when a train goes through a red light and activates the brakes unless the driver overrides it. However, there have been suggestions that this is sometimes turned off by drivers because they get irritated by false alarms on single sections of track as the warning is triggered by red lights intended for trains coming from the other direction.

Brian Mawhinney, the Transport Secretary, yesterday confirmed there would be an inquiry led by a railway inspector who will hear evidence in public and publish a report. Dr Mawhinney said British Rail and Railtrack accepted responsibility for the crash and compensation payments would follow.

(Map omitted)

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial