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)


Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage

nflAtlanta Falcons can't count and don't know what the UK looks like
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
Latest stories from i100
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

PE Teacher, Full Time Role, Gillingham School

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: We are urgently seeking an exper...

Telecoms Engineer - Telecoms Admin - £35,000 - 5 month FTC

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 5 month Fixed Term Contract - Telecommunicati...

Norwegian Speaking Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 per annum + competitive OTE: SThree: Progressive in Manchester is seeki...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London