Train driver 'stable' after crash
Ipswich trucker Bob Mortimer cheated death after his cab rolled into the path of a freight train loaded with hazardous chemicals.The 47-year-old driver was said to have scrambled to safety after his lorry crashed into the parapet of the bridge and toppled 40 feet down a bank and on to the track, although police at the scene today said that he was hurled clear of the wreckage.
By Georgina James
Ipswich trucker Bob Mortimer cheated death after his cab rolled into the path of a freight train loaded with hazardous chemicals.
The 47-year-old driver was said to have scrambled to safety after his lorry crashed into the parapet of the bridge and toppled 40 feet down a bank and on to the track, although police at the scene today said that he was hurled clear of the wreckage.
Seconds later, the London-bound freight train smashed into the lorry and the cab became entangled in the wheels of the train.
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The accident happened at approximately 5.25am on Harwich Road on the A137 between Lawford and Ardleigh.
Resident Tony Woods, was first on the scene and stayed with the driver until the ambulance crew arrived. The driver received injuries to his pelvis. He is being treated in Colchester hospital where doctors say he is in a "stable" condition.
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Today's accident has echoes of the rail disaster at Selby in Yorkshire when a Land Rover left a motorway and landed on the track. The ensuing two-train collision claimed 10 lives.
After that accident deputy prime minister Jon Prescott ordered a probe into the problem of vehicles obstructing railway lines.
A subsequent report called for a programme of targeted action to reduce the likelihood of such accidents.
Currently, 10,000 sites at risk of this type of accident are being assessed. It is not known at this time whether today's crash site was one of these.
Residents living close to the track were today trying to comprehend what happened, some only too aware of how much worse it could have been.
Maxine Smith, 39, of Harwich Road, Lawford, said: "I heard the crash and looked out of my window and saw the lorry had hit the wall of the bridge. I phoned the emergency services and told them there was a lorry cab on the line."
She said Tony Woods, a Lawford resident, went to help the driver, who had apparently already managed to pull himself out of the cab.
Jim Ensom , a presenter for BBC Radio Suffolk, witnessed events unfold.
He described how the lorry had apparently hit the wall of the railway bridge before flying over the top and careering down the embankment.
Mr Ensom said: "It was utter carnage. Half of the lorry was on the road and the cab had gone flying over the top of the wall and down the embankment. It was an incredible scene.
"It is a miracle he managed to escape. A couple of minutes after he hit the track he heard the freight train coming round the corner. It literally just smashed straight into the cab."
He also speculated that the lorry driver was thrown from the cab as the windscreen had completely shattered.
It took a quarter of a mile for the Freightliner train, which was transporting nineteen containers from the Port of Felixstowe Felixstowe, to come to a halt after impact.
Gallons of diesel poured out from the lorry, which was on its way to Kent. Firefighters from Colchester and two crews from Manningtree doused the road with sand in order to make it safe.
Parts of the lorry were seen scattered across the railway track for several hundred yards.
Station officer Brian Rudd, based at Manningtree, said: "We had two crews from Manningtree and a rescue pump and tender from Colchester at the scene. When we got here the driver was lying on the side of the track and we had received a call from the train driver that he had hit the lorry. All we could do was to help administer first aid and make sure the vehicle was safe."
Chief Inspector Iain Logan, of Essex police, said: "We were called at about 5.25am and our first report was that a lorry struck a wall and a cab was hanging down on the rail track. The cab had been struck by a goods train heading towards London. The lorry was carrying methanol extract. The cab had become detached from the lorry and the driver managed to free himself before it was hit. The cab is now entangled in the wheels of the train and we are waiting for an engineering solution before it can be removed.
"Our biggest issue at the moment are 1,200 litres of diesel spilling from the lorry. We called Tendring Water Company and the environment agency in case of pollution fears."
Two of the freight wagons contained hazardous chemicals and were undamaged and still intact. The A137 road is expected to remain closed until early evening.
Crash investigators were continuing to work at the site today as a three-way joint investigation was started by Railtrack, Essex police and British Transport Police, although the site of accident was not being treated as a crime scene.
The crash comes amid fears for the safety of Harwich Road. More than 70 residents of Harwich Road, Lawford, and Foxwood Close, have recently submitted a petition to Ardleigh Parish Council calling for a speed reduction on this road.
Linda McCracken, of Harwich Road, said: "We have tried to get the speed limit on this stretch of road reduced but our concerns were rejected. We wanted the speed limit reduced from 60 miles per hour to 40 miles per hour.
"The visibility of the residents living nearby the railway bridge is very poor and should have been taken into consideration."