'Balls of fire' strike train as boulders cause derailment

Survivors of a train crash spoke yesterday of the terrifying moments when the passenger service smashed into boulders and burst into flames.

"Balls of fire" tore down the sides of one stricken carriage as the train came to rest over a 50-foot high embankment near Cruachan Power Station, by Loch Awe in Argyll, after hitting boulders on the tracks.

A landslide was blamed for the derailment on Sunday evening which left eight people needing hospital treatment and others with minor injuries. The driver, Willie Dickson, and the guard, Angus MacColl, calmed frightened passengers before leading them to safety as one carriage caught fire.

They were hailed as heroes by Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, who said a major disaster had been narrowly avoided. Mr Dickson said that just before the impact which led to the derailment he saw "two huge rocks on the track".

He said: "I stayed at the controls until the train came to rest. I then entered the front carriage and tried to calm passengers down before taking people by the hand and leading them off the train.

"My colleagues were brilliant, as were some passengers who helped others on board."

Passenger Paul Gibson recalled seeing "on either side of us big balls of flame" moments after the impact.

A British Transport Police spokesman said: "There are a few big boulders lying about on the railway line. Early indications are it's probably been a landslide but investigations are under way."

Steve Montgomery, ScotRail's managing director said: "This incident could have been more serious but for [the staff's] actions. They did a tremendous job in difficult circumstances."

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