Grayrigg train crash: 'The night that changed our lives'

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(Left to right) Iain Black, David Lewis and George Masson
Image caption,
Iain Black, David Lewis and George Masson have since become friends

Ten years after a fatal train crash, three people connected with the tragedy have spoken of the night that changed their lives.

On 23 February 2007, a 300-tonne Virgin Pendolino train was travelling at 95mph when it hit a "degraded" set of points on the West Coast Main Line and careered down an embankment.

An 84-year-old Glasgow woman, Margaret Masson, was killed and more than 80 other people were injured, some seriously.

To mark the anniversary BBC Radio Cumbria took the driver, the son of the woman who died and the track maintenance manager who failed to check the points back to the scene at Grayrigg in Cumbria.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The remote rural location caused problems for the rescue operation

Recalling the night, driver Iain Black said: "I think it took 13 seconds from coming off the line for me to be lying in the field facing the opposite direction.

"Obviously adrenalin takes over, and when the train was going down the hill I was still conscious until I got into the field and I got knocked out for a minute or two.

"I just found it unbelievable - you don't believe it is happening. My initial thought was, 'I'll be off work next week because there'll be an inquiry'. Little did I know I'd be off work for 18 months."

George Masson was told about the crash in a phone call.

He said: "I got a call from my son saying, 'Your mum's dead'. I said, 'What are you talking about? She's in Southport'.

"He said she was killed in a train crash. And then I got a phone call from Virgin Rail."

The company sent a taxi to take him to the hospital - where he was unable to see his mother in the morgue because the extent of her injuries was too severe - and later to the scene of the crash.

"Just being here, it does affect you," he said. "I've got tears coming out of my eyes, seeing the place again."

The derailment was caused by a "degraded and unsafe" set of points, which a Network Rail track maintenance manager had forgotten to check.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Margaret Masson had been due to travel on a different train, but had changed her plans

David Lewis, from Preston, told an inquest that he had previously flagged up safety concerns, telling his bosses that his team was under-staffed, with workers not given the right tools or enough time to carry out checks.

Speaking at the scene of the crash 10 years on, he said: "Obviously when I walked up there on the night, I looked at the bank and saw the train laid on its side and I didn't think many people were going to come out of that train alive.

"And after that I had the investigation, the police, I was arrested, I was suspended from work.

"To begin with it was a bit unreal, but as time went on I was bailed and re-bailed, and re-interviewed, and that went on for months before I was eventually released.

"By the time I had got to the end of that I was just basically clinging on, was in a deep hole, deep depressions, mood swings, because you don't know what's gong to happen to you.

"My marriage broke down. I had to sell my house and eventually I lost my job. It's affected me greatly in that respect.

"Obviously it wasn't like what these people have been through, but it was a bad time for me as well. At the end of the day I hadn't done anything wrong, which all came out at the trial."

Mr Black said to Mr Lewis: "I think it was a lot worse for you - life-changing for you. I got a few injuries that are going to be with me for life, but your life stopped."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Network Rail was fined £4m after admitting health and safety breaches over the "degraded and "unsafe" set of points

Iain Black, from Dumbarton, recovered from his injuries, including a broken neck, but after arthritis affected the damaged vertebra he was forced to retire.

He said his wife still struggled with the memories of the night.

"While I was lying in the cab I phoned her and stayed on the line for two-and-a-half hours.

"At times I'd go quiet and she thought I'd died, and she found that hard to get over."

For the Masson family, the memory of their mother remains strong.

Her son said: "We do think about her and keep looking at pictures and everything else."

Mr Lewis has returned to working on the railways, but said that what happened was always on his mind.

Network Rail said that since the crash "valuable lessons were learned, which have contributed to the railway in Britain now being the safest major network in Europe".

Martin Frobisher, route managing director, said: "On the 10th anniversary of the Grayrigg incident, our thoughts are with the family and friends of Margaret Masson who tragically lost her life and with all those who were injured or affected by what happened."

Image caption,
Ten years on, there is no sign of where the derailment took place

So what does the anniversary mean for the three?

Iain Black said: "Every 23 February, at that specific time of night - about 8pm - me and my wife always remember it. Every year is as vivid as the one before. I'll never forget it."

George Masson said: "I lock myself away, don't talk to anyone."

David Lewis described it as "the night that changed all our lives".

He said: "It's very important that I've got to know these guys. It's helping us all to get over it. Great friendships come out of bad things."

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