Near miss as express train passes stop signal

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The driver of a busy Virgin train took the express to within yards of a potentially disastrous collision after passing through a red signal, it has been revealed.

When he realised he had passed a red light, the driver slammed on the brakes and narrowly avoided hitting another busy Virgin service, which had stopped in front.

The 7.10pm from London Euston to Wolverhampton came to a halt just 30 yards behind the 7.05pm train to Holyhead. The near miss, on Wednesday night, comes amid deep concern over the increase in the number of signals passed at danger (SPADs). Ten train companies – not including Virgin – have been ordered to tell the Health and Safety Executive by today how they intend to improve their record on SPADs.

After the incident, the driver of the Wolverhampton train told officials that he thought signal WJ84, just north of Hemel Hempstead, was set at green when he first looked at it in strong sunlight. But when he looked again it was red and he applied the emergency brakes – stopping one train-length past the signal.

As Virgin Trains and Railtrack began their investigations, it has emerged the driver of the Holyhead service had stopped to report a fault with signal WJ84. He had noticed the signal change from green to red as he went past it and stopped the train to telephone the signal box, as instructed in the industry's rule book.

Railtrack last night issued a statement that signal WJ84 had suffered from a power surge as the Holyhead train passed it. The fail-safe mechanism meant that the light changed immediately from green to red. The signal was still set at red when the Wolverhampton train approached it and the driver is thought to have misread it.

Railtrack said: "Whenever there is a power supply issue, the signals are automatically reverted to red as a fail-safe. The second train came along and didn't abide by the signal, which was showing red. It appears it is a signal passed at danger." No passengers were hurt.

Virgin trains said the second train is being tested to see if it has any faults that may explain it passing the red signal.

Among the 10 companies instructed to tighten procedures for preventing trains passing red lights are Thames Trains and First Great Western, the companies involved, respectively, in London's Paddington and Southall disasters, which were both caused by SPADs. It was thought that strong sunlight might have caused Thames Trains' driver to misread signal SN109 leading to the Paddington crash.

The other train operating companies on the HSE's hit list are Great North Eastern Railways; Anglia Railways; Merseyrail Electrics, First Great Eastern, Cardiff Railway, Scotrail and Wales and West.

* Services on Eurotunnel are in "great disarray" because an increasing number of asylum seekers try to gain illegal entry into Britain, according to a leaked memo.

The letter from Eurotunnel management to staff tells of train delays almost every night and the "injustice felt by staff faced with the constant, relentless and organised illegal intrusion" of asylum seekers into the terminal on the French side.

Eurotunnel claims the problem is made far worse because the Red Cross centre for refugees at Sangatte, is close to the tunnel entrance.

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