A driver's skills may have saved lives after his train crashed into a car deliberately abandoned at a crossing in Northern Ireland, police said today.
Even though the train struck the Vauxhall Astra at 60mph and carried it up the track for 450 metres, the driver still managed to keep the train on the line.
Two men who left the car stood and watched the crash before running off, police said.
None of the 30 passengers on board the train was hurt, but they came perilously close to being caught up in a huge tragedy, according to Detective Inspector Nick McCaw.
He said: "It was down to the driver's expertise that we have possibly avoided a catastrophe."
Police are treating the incident as attempted murder. The train driver, from Londonderry, who was left deeply traumatised, has not been identified.
He had just rounded a bend on the Belfast-Coleraine line when he spotted the car with just seconds to spare and no chance to stop in time. The maroon Astra had been abandoned parallel on the track with its rear end facing the train.
The driver got a glancing view of two men standing beside the crossing at Station Road, near the north Antrim village of Dunloy, late last night before they ran off as he struggled to keep control and prevent his engine and four carriages careering down a 20ft embankment.
Mal McGreevy, of Northern Ireland Railways, said: "He managed it despite what must have been a very frightening situation."
Mr McCaw added; "This was a completely mindless and reckless act. If it hadn't been for the vigilance of the driver, lives could have been lost."
Luckily, he said, the diesel engine had been at the front of the train, took the impact and pushed the car up the track.
If the train had been going in the opposite direction, the engine would have been at the rear pushing the carriages, he added.
He went on: "The train could easily have been derailed and we would be looking at a much more serious incident."
The engine being at the front and the experience of the driver - who is also a driver instructor for NIR - were the two factors which police believe stopped the train being derailed.
Mr McCaw said: "The driver, we believe, through his actions saved the lives of those on this train."Reuse content