Horror on the 5.35

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The Independent Online

Six people were killed and more than 60 injured, 11 of them seriously, after a high-speed train collided with a car at a level crossing near Reading in Berkshire last night.

Six people were killed and more than 60 injured, 11 of them seriously, after a high-speed train collided with a car at a level crossing near Reading in Berkshire last night.

The crash caused the complete derailment of the 5.35 First Great Western express travelling from London Paddington to Plymouth.

Passengers described chaotic scenes, with people shouting and screaming after the impact. The crash left six of the eight carriages lying on their sides. Two were wrecked almost beyond recognition.

Carriages and debris were scattered for up to 300 yards beyond the level crossing, near the village of Ufton Nervet. One witness said the most severely damaged carriage was "twisted like a baguette". The fate of the train driver was not known, though another witness said he was alive but trapped.

There were early suggestions that the accident may have been the result of an attempted suicide by the driver of the car, but no evidence has so far emerged, and the British Transport Police refused to comment.

The most seriously injured passengers were taken to hospitals in Reading and Basingstoke, including at least two believed to be critically ill. Casualties were said to have broken limbs, head, chest and abdominal injuries.

Twenty ambulances and 14 fire engines attended the scene from across the neighbouring counties. By midnight the emergency services had managed to free the last of the passengers trapped in the wreckage, using heavy cutting equipment. The rescue was hampered by rain and fog, and police were using sniffer dogs to search surrounding fields for anyone who might have stumbled away from the wreckage.

Deputy Chief Constable Andy Trotter, from the British Transport Police, described the crash site as a scene of "devastation."

Richard Micklewright, one of the train passengers, said: "On the side of the track, I saw what looked like a bundle of metal. I assumed it was a car but it was not recognisable as a car."

It is thought that the train, carrying about 300 passengers and travelling at 90mph, hit the car at about 6.10pm on the unmanned crossing near the A4. Within minutes, fire and ambulance crews were heading to the scene. As the scale of the crash emerged, emergency teams from neighbouring counties, including Oxfordshire and Hampshire, were called in. By mid-evening around 300 police were at the scene.

The area's hospitals reported scores of walking wounded, many brought in by coach. Residents from nearby villages began giving out blankets for the uninjured survivors, who had been sent to a pub, the Winning Hand.

The Health and Safety Executive began an investigation and quickly ruled out any fault on the train or the track.

Jonny Saunders, a BBC reporter who was on the train, said passengers were "shouting and screaming" after the collision: "People started panicking. There was a real smell of fumes everywhere ­ it was very scary. We're in complete shock. But we were lucky."

Alex Mayor, who was returning from boarding school, said: "We felt a big jolt and it just started shaking and swerving, and then went down on its side ... the carriage behind us crumpled and came off the track. I think there were two people that died in our carriage."

It is thought many of the passengers were returning from Christmas shopping in Reading or London. Others were Reading football supporters travelling home from a match.

Ian Calloway, the landlord of the Winning Hand pub, said: "We've had a hell of a lot of people through here ­ the best part of 100. The emergency services have been using the pub as an assessment area, sending the walking wounded to hospital, and other people have been going to hotels."

The line is expected to remain closed for some days until the wreckage is cleared.

Thames Valley Police set up an emergency number for those worried about friends or relatives ­ 0870 010 0732.