'One person went through a window and was trapped underneath the train'

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The Independent Online

The train had just left Reading station heading west, crowded with football fans and shoppers, many of them standing in the aisles, when passengers felt it brake hard ­ as though somebody had pulled the emergency cord. Some heard a juddering noise; others in carriages close to the front were shaken by an impact as the train collided with a car on a level crossing.

The train had just left Reading station heading west, crowded with football fans and shoppers, many of them standing in the aisles, when passengers felt it brake hard ­ as though somebody had pulled the emergency cord. Some heard a juddering noise; others in carriages close to the front were shaken by an impact as the train collided with a car on a level crossing.

"You could feel it hit the car," said David White, 48, from Cornwall, who was returning from London with his wife and members of his family. "The carriages ploughed into each other."

The passengers were plunged into complete darkness with people screaming and shouting on the floor, as tables fell on top of them and the air filled with the smell of fuel. Mr White's carriage had come off its wheels but passengers managed to crawl through the door at one end of it.

Once outside, they saw that the driver was still alive but stuck inside his cab. Other passengers were also trapped in carriages. The car that the train had struck remained at the level crossing, almost completely destroyed.

"There was nothing left ­ two sides of it were all over the place," said Mr White, one of several who were taken from the isolated scene, close to a hamlet of a few homes, to a local hotel. His sister-in-law had been taken to hospital with a shoulder injury.

Duncan Freeman, who was returning home from London, felt a huge jolt and then a second one before the lights went out. "I felt I was in serious danger of losing my life. I picked up my bag, and a ticket inspector told us not to leave the carriage but I could smell diesel so I thought it would be best to get out of the carriage," he said.

Tim Grundy, who lives close to the crash scene, said the middle sections of the train were "completely and utterly destroyed". After walking a quarter of a mile from the level crossing to where carriages were lying on their side, he described the scene as "absolute devastation". "I've seen two carriages which were hideously destroyed. I fear for anyone who was in those carriages."

The speed of the emergency services impressed many of the survivors. Diana Lazenby, an education consultant from London, said that police and ambulance services had arrived within minutes of the crash, taking the able-bodied back to the level crossing where the train left the rails. Some survivors were wrapped in blankets, one had no shoes.

The train was particularly full, taking Christmas shoppers back from London to the West Country, and many of the passengers had been forced to stand in the aisles, or in the space between the carriages.

The casualties could have been even heavier but for the fact that, unusually, the carriages at the front of the train, which took the brunt of the smash, were First Class.

Mario Iotti, a 24-year-old passenger, said: "Our carriage had a fatality in it. One person was close to the windows and went through and got trapped underneath the train. Some girls in front of me had their faces covered in blood and someone said they had a broken arm.

"I guess that about 20 to 30 people were trapped in that carriage. There was glass everywhere. People were flashing their mobiles to see in the dark."

The A4 between Reading and Newbury was closed by police as emergency services battled to reach the scene. As the rescue crews worked under floodlight, fireworks could be seen and heard exploding in the background.

Richard Benyon, a local farmer, was at the scene shortly after the crash. He said residents were inviting shocked passengers into their homes in the hamlet of Ufton Nervet, doing what they could to help: "I can see from the road there is definitely rolling stock lying on its side or at an angle. It's hard to imagine that could happen without some serious injuries. I know the crossing well. We use it every day on the farm.

"In my lifetime, there has never been an accident there. You can go round at the barrier if you are stupid enough but I cannot believe somebody got confused."

Richard Micklewight, a passenger in a carriage that was not among the most damaged, said: "The lights had gone out and people were searching for the emergency light. Eventually, somebody broke a window. There were hammers for emergencies like this. We then all moved down and went through the rear of the carriage. It was difficult to move because the carriage was at a 45 degree angle.

"The carriage in front remained upright but I could see that the one after that was at right angles to the track. It looked to me like there were a lot of carriages strewn all over the place. I was just grateful that the thing had come to a stop and we were in one piece. The emergency services were here pretty quickly, considering the distance they had to come ­ within 10 to 15 minutes. You couldn't fault them at all."

The Bishop of Reading, the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, said: "Our prayers are with the injured, with the families of those who have died, and with the emergency services."

GRIM TOLL ON THE RAILWAYS

By Steve Bloomfield

12 December 1988: Three trains collide at Clapham Junction, London, killing 35.

4 March 1989: Two trains collide near Purley. Five killed, 90 injured.

8 January 1991: Train crashes into buffers at Cannon Street, London. Two killed, 248 injured.

15 October 1994: Two trains collide in fog near Cowden, Kent, killing five.

31 January 1995: Guard killed and 30 injured in an accident at Ais Gill on the Settle-to-Carlisle line.

9 March 1996: A mail train collides with a train in Stafford. One killed.

8 August 1996: One killed, 73 injured when two trains collide at Watford South Junction.

19 September 1997: Seven die, 150 are injured after an express hits a freight train at Southall.

5 October 1999: Two trains collide at Ladbroke Grove, London, killing 31 and injuring 244.

17 October 2000: Four die, 35 hurt when a train derails at Hatfield, Herts.

28 February 2001: A Land-Rover derails an express train, pushes it into path of freight train near Selby, killing 10.

10 May 2002: Train derails at Potters Bar, killing seven and injuring more than 70.

7 July 2003: Train hitsminibus near Charlton in Worcestershire. Three die, seven injured.

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