Controllers `helpless' as trains crashed

The inquiry into Tuesday night's fatal rail crash in Cumbria will centre on why controllers were unable to make radio contact with the driver of the train heading for a collision with another passenger train derailed 10 minutes earlier. It emerged yesterday that the driver of a Super Sprinter train on the Settle to Carlisle line flashed a danger warning to the rail control room that he had been derailed six minutes before the crash, which killed the conductor of the derailed train and seriously injured the driver of the other train and six passengers.

But controllers could do nothing to warn the oncoming train because, the inquiry was told, the area was too remote and hilly for the driver to receive a radio message and there was no signal that could be activated.

After the derailment, the conductor, Stuart Wilson, 47, of Leeds, led passengers into a rear coach, but was hit as he went to check the front of the train.

The crash is the second in recent months.which could have been prevented by good communications. Last October, five people were killed near Cowden, in Kent, when two trains, which did not have radios fitted, collided head-on. The trains in Tuesday's crash, on the most popular tourist railway in England, did have cab radios.

Lew Adams, general secretary of the train drivers' union Aslef, said: "It is a matter of serious concern to Aslef that the drivers on these two trains could not be contacted in time to avert the collision.