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Sunday, 7 November, 2004, 09:23 GMT
Train tragedy probe after six die

All eight carriages left the tracks in the accident
Six people have died and seven are seriously injured after a high-speed train hit a car on an unmanned level crossing on Saturday evening.

All eight carriages of the 1735 First Great Western service from Paddington to Plymouth were derailed in the accident near Ufton Nervet, Berkshire.

The accident comes two months after a railway inspectors' report warned of the dangers of level crossings.

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling said there would be a thorough inquiry.

He said: "I want to express the deep sadness of the government for those who died and were injured and our condolences to their families."

The train, which was carrying about 300 people, hit the car some 500 yards from the A4 between Reading and Newbury at around 1815 GMT on Saturday.
We came to a juddering halt and suddenly the lights went off, screaming, shouting and it went pitch black
Jonny Saunders
BBC Radio Five Live
More than 20 ambulances and 14 fire engines rushed to the scene from surrounding counties as injured passengers were dragged from the wreckage.

Survivors described the chaotic scene as the carriages and two engines left the track which has a 100 mph speed limit.

Jonny Saunders, who works for BBC Radio Five Live, said: "We came to a juddering halt and suddenly the lights went off, screaming, shouting and it went pitch black, then total chaos in the carriage for a few moments."

Fellow passenger Mario Iotti said: "I heard the noise of the wheels screeching very loud. There was broken glass all over the track.

"The whole thing tilted to the left side of the tracks. My carriage remained on the tracks but on its side, sliding along."

Crash inquiry
The use of level crossings contributes the greatest potential for catastrophic risk on the railways
Rail safety chief Dr Allan Sefton
Richard Micklewright, who was also on the train, praised the rapid response by the emergency serivces.

He said: "Our particular carriage went on to its side, about a 45 degree angle but fortunately it stopped shortly after that.

"I can tell you the carriage in front of us was upright, the one before that ended up at a right-angle to the tracks, beyond that I couldn't see clearly."

The BBC's transport correspondent Tom Symonds says it has also emerged that the investigation into the crash is examining the possibility that a car was deliberately reversed onto the track.

However it is being emphasised that other possibilities are also being investigated.

Scores injured

First Great Western trains confirmed early on Sunday the train's driver was among the fatalities.

A total of 61 injured were taken to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and others to the North Hampshire Hospital in Basingstoke.

Of the patients taken there, 48 have been discharged.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Berkshire said on Sunday morning that nine of the others had "minor" injuries, four were "serious but stable", and one was in a life-threatening condition.

Another patient had been transferred to another hospital.
Our particular carriage went on to its side, about a 45 degree angle
Richard Micklewright
Keith Lumley, a Network Rail spokesman, said the accident happened at an automatic level crossing with half barriers on each side of the road.

Earlier this year, Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate said level crossings posed the "greatest" potential rail risk.

It said existing level crossings were gradually being removed, with no new ones being built.

People worried about friends or relatives should call the Thames Valley Police casualty bureau number on 0870 010 0732.