Vandals ruled out in fatal rail crash

AT LEAST a dozen people narrowly escaped death when a Royal Mail train careered up an embankment and stopped just inches from their homes, after a high-speed collision with a freight train. One man was killed and 20 injured in the accident, at Rickerscote, south of Stafford, late on Friday night.

The Transrail freight train was travelling from Scotland to London with a cargo of liquid carbon dioxide when it was derailed near Stafford station. The Coventry-to-Glasgow mail train, going in the other direction, hit it head-on, leading to the death of a postal worker, who has yet to be named. None of the 20 who were hurt sustained life-threatening injuries.

Five of the mail train's carriages and its locomotive were thrown across the track. The locomotive rose up an embankment, stopping just short of the wall of a nearby house.

"I could hear screaming," said one local resident, Graham Collis. "I thought, thank God it's not a passenger train: there would have been carnage. The screams of those men in the dark were bad enough."

Graham Jarvis, who lives three houses away from the crash, said: "I heard a small sort of thump but thought that was normal, living near to the railway line. Then I heard an almighty crash like an explosion. I went downstairs but couldn't see anything - there was a thick fog. Because of the carbon dioxide, everything was covered in ice. There was about two inches on the ground like a frost."

Neighbour Geoffrey Wookey said: "A tremendous cloud of what I was told was carbon dioxide gas spread across the area. The police told us to keep our doors and windows closed, but it dispersed in the wind after 10 minutes."

Fifty houses were later evacuated during an operation to remove the carbon dioxide.

Investigators were yesterday picking through the tangled wreckage, trying to discover why the freight train left its tracks and collided with the mail train. Railtrack, whose safety systems were the subject of a highly critical Health and Safety Executive report last week, said that its initial assessment ruled out track or signal failures or vandalism.

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