Train driver ignored signals that were set at caution

THE driver of a train that crashed, killing a woman passenger, ignored signals to slow down and speeded up seconds before the impact, a court heard yesterday.

Peter Afford was driving the four-coach train from London Euston to Milton Keynes when it hit an empty passenger train travelling in the opposite direction at Watford Junction, Hertfordshire in August 1996, killing one passenger and injuring more than 70 others. Mr Afford, 56, of Normansfield Close, Bushey, Herts, has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter relating to the death of Ruth Snook, better known as Ruth Holland, 54, from Hemel Hempstead. Brian Escott-Cox QC, prosecuting at Luton crown court, claimed Mr Afford disregarded yellow signals and Advanced Warning System lights and buzzers in his cab telling him to slow down in preparation for a red signal to stop.

"Had Mr Afford obeyed those signals, you and I would not be here today," Mr Escott-Cox told the jury. " If Mr Afford had been obeying the yellow signal he could have pulled up in comfort but he was actually accelerating."

Mr Escott-Cox said that Mr Afford had just started his shift and was driving his first train of the day, which left at about 5pm, on a line that he knew well.

He claimed the driver was accelerating through a yellow light. Although he reacted quickly and braked when he saw the red signal, Mr Escott-Cox said, "The die was already cast. He was going too fast. Putting his brakes on too late."

Mr Afford's train was required to stop as an empty eight-carriage train, heading for Euston, was crossing in front of it. Mr Escott-Cox completed his opening speech for the prosecution by showing the jury a series of photographs of the crash aftermath. He also showed a video, taken from the driver's cab of a train, travelling along the same line from Harrow to the collision spot at Watford junction.

The case continues today.