Inquest opens into Cumbria train derailment death
Tuesday 25 October 2011
A woman called out "Mum! Mum! Mum!" as her mother lay fatally injured in the Grayrigg train crash, an inquest heard today.
Margaret Langley lay injured next to her 84-year-old mother in the wrecked train carriage which careered off the rails at 95mph, turning 190 degrees as it slid down an embankment.
Margaret Masson died from her injuries hours after the Virgin Pendolino London to Glasgow express train derailed on the West Coast Main Line near the remote village of Grayrigg at 8.12pm on February 23 2007.
All eight carriages of the Class 390 tilting train were derailed and 86 passengers and two crew of the 105 people aboard were injured.
A subsequent Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) inquiry ruled the "immediate cause" of the crash was the train had gone over a "degraded and unsafe" set of points, known as Lambrigg 2B.
Mrs Masson, known as Peggy, from Glasgow, got on the train at Preston, Lancashire, accompanied by her daughter Margaret Langley and her husband Richard Langley.
The pensioner had been staying with her daughter and son-in-law for a week and they were accompanying the pensioner back to her home.
They were due to travel the next day but instead decided to catch the Friday night express back to Glasgow, the inquest at the County Offices in Kendal heard.
On the first day of the three-week hearing, where train safety is expected to come under the spotlight, the jury heard a graphic first-hand account of how the crash unfolded.
A statement from Richard Langley, who has since died, but not from injuries caused in the accident, was read, telling how after taking their seats in the first carriage chaos erupted just over 30 minutes into their journey.
"The next thing I recall is being six feet in the air," his statement read.
"I was wedged in by the coach side and a table and I had the round table pole between my legs. The train was on its side.
"I remember it was dark outside but the carriage was quite brightly lit."
Drifting in and out of consciousness Mr Langley, 63, a retired train conductor, ended up being wedged in between a table and the carriage wall as the carriage came to rest on its side.
"Margaret was lying on her stomach face down. Peggy was lying directly across Margaret, on her stomach face down.
"Peggy was shouting, 'Margaret! Margaret! Margaret!' and Margaret was just saying, 'Mum! Mum! Mum!'
"I think Peggy called out on two other occasions.
"Margaret was not panicking at all, she was just talking to her mum.
"I don't recall them trying to get up or doing anything at all.
"I kept slipping in and out of consciousness.
"I saw Peggy and Margaret then the next thing I saw was paramedics.
"I could not see any injuries on Margaret or Peggy.
"What originally had been the roof and the floor had now formed the sides of the carriage."
Mr Langley said as he tried to stand up he again blacked out.
"My next memory is lying on a stretcher and being carried across a field by ambulance or fire crew."
Mr Langley was airlifted to hospital where he had a life-saving operation after seriously injuring his lung.
Mrs Masson was rushed by Sea King helicopter to the Royal Lancaster Hospital but died from her injuries at 11pm the same night.
Mr Langley's statement, made three months after crash, ended: "Peggy was truly loved and all her family and friends will miss her terribly."
At this point members of her family, sitting at the back of the court, wiped tears from their eyes.
Earlier Margaret Langley described her mother's state of health as "marvellous".
Mrs Langley said her mother was staying with her after having central heating fitted in her own home.
She said the three had seat reservations to go north on Saturday morning but her husband and mother decided to travel the night before.
The witness told the jury she recalled settling down and her next memory was "waking up in hospital".
The train driver, Iain Black, from Dumbarton, who was seriously injured and hailed a hero by Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson, is scheduled to give evidence to Ian Smith, HM Coroner for south and east Cumbria, later today.
Much of the evidence during the inquest, scheduled to last three weeks, will focus on rail safety management.
The 2007 Grayrigg crash came after safety recommendations were made following the deaths of four people in the Hatfield crash in October 2000 caused by a broken rail, and the Potters Bar accident in May 2002, which killed seven people, again caused by faulty rail points.
Pathologist Dr Margaret Stewart, who carried out the post-mortem examination on Mrs Masson, said the pensioner suffered a deep 15cm cut across the top of her head, fractured ribs, extensive bruising, and dislocation of bones in her back.
She also suffered internal injuries, with bleeding, two collapsed lungs and extensive blood loss.
Driver Mr Black told the inquest how the locomotive "leapt in the air" and he knew he was in "big bother" as he was tossed around the cab as his train came off the rails at the faulty points.
Mr Black, 50, who had been driving trains for seven years, took over at the controls at Preston and described the journey as "easy peasy".
He said the three-year-old train was in perfect working order and reached speeds of up to 125mph on the route north.
After slowing slightly to go through Oxenholme Station he set the automatic speed control to 95mph as the train wound its way through the countryside approaching the left-hand bend where the faulty points were.
Jonathan Hough, barrister to assist the coroner, asked the witness what happened as his train passed over the points.
"First I was forced into the upright position. The train leapt into the air," he said.
"You do get bumps and wee noises on trains, but I knew immediately, without a shadow of a doubt, I was in big bother. The train leapt into the air and came down pretty solid.
"I remember noise of the ballast, stones underneath the train, hitting really loud and hitting line-side equipment. My impression was I had veered off the line.
"It was very quick, I had to stand up, the next recollection I don't know how I got there, I was wedged on the dashboard, between the dashboard and the window screen looking back at my seat."
Mr Black broke his neck in the crash, having been knocked out by hitting the ceiling before landing on the dashboard.
"I came around, it was obviously going down the embankment, I must have been unconscious again."
The second time he came round the train was on its side with Mr Black coming to rest on the cab's side window.
"The train had settled and I could hear screaming and stuff," he said.
"I knew I was badly injured, my immediate concern was I did not know the exact position. I did not know I was in a field, it was pitch black."
Mr Black said after such a crash automatic warnings trigger red lights on the line to stop any other trains travelling down the same route.
But he said drivers are trained not to rely on the automatic system and make sure other trains are stopped by alerting rail controllers.
Mr Black said the cab was "dead" so, despite serious injuries and drifting in and out of consciousness, he used his mobile phone to call his then partner, Jan, now his wife, who also worked for Virgin trains to alert others of the danger.
"The whole thing was so unbelievable. I couldn't imagine it happened. I had a broken neck, a head injury and just all smashed up, at times Jan was saying, 'Wake up!"'
The line had already been "locked" so no other trains could come down it.
The cab door was badly damaged and could be opened only with a crowbar, the inquest heard.
Mr Black was the last person off the train, two-and-a-half hours after the crash. He was carried out on a spinal board before being flown by helicopter to hospital.
Coroner Ian Smith asked Mr Black about seat belts in trains.
The witness said wearing a seat belt was not mandatory on trains and there was not one fitted to that train.
And even if there had been he would probably not have worn it, Mr Black said.
"I would not have broke my neck, but I don't know if it's an advantage to have a seat belt," he said.
"I wish I had worn one that night. The times it would save you are so far between."
Prashant Popat QC, representing Network Rail, which owns and is responsible for maintaining the rail line, commended the witness for having the "foresight" to make contact with his partner to warn others of the crash.
The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow morning.
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