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An express passenger train crashed in to the rear of a stationary chemical freight train in Weaste, Salford in December 1984, three people were killed and 70 injured. Incredibly I witnessed the crash at close quarters as I drove along the M602 which runs parallel to the railway track.

Aged 22 and only four months into my first full time post as a rookie press photographer, that morning  I was instructed to courier important documents into Manchester. Before I left, my editor  barked the order “don’t forget your camera, a good press photographer is never off duty”, ten minutes later I’m glad I heeded his words! Shortly after joining the motorway in my bright yellow company van, in the right of my vision, I could see the chemical freight train moving slowly along the track, with the passenger train closing in rapidly from behind, I assumed they were on separate tracks. To my horror it smashed into the back of the freight train, catapulting the rear chemical tanker into the air with a subsequent explosion and mushroom cloud of smoke. The front carriage of the passenger train burst into flames.

With smoke now blowing across the motorway, I swerved my van on to the hard shoulder, the car in front of me was by flying debris, luckily there was no traffic on the carriageway adjacent to the crash. I grabbed my camera from the foot well of the van and sprinted the short distance to the scene. It was surreal, it felt like I had wandered into a disaster movie, and although it was quite obvious there had been loss of life and multiple injuries, I excitedly relished the moment and was totally caught up in the adrenaline rush. Screaming passengers were escaping out of the second stricken carriage, bloodied and dazed, climbing on a fence for a higher viewpoint I continued to document the event – I felt no compulsion to help, surely this, wasn’t a normal human reaction?


A commuter flees the inferno


Passengers help each other escape from the second carriage

The emergency services arrived within 10 minutes and the passengers were removed from the scene, leaving me perched on the fence with my camera in hand, just yards away from a burning chemical tanker. Eventually an enraged fireman spotted me, pulled me down, dragged me across the carriageway and subjected me to a barrage of abuse. Ironically the crash was heard from my newspaper office, my editor had no way of contacting me (pre mobiles phones) and was totally unaware I was at the scene.

In the days, weeks and months following the crash, I continually questioned my behaviour that day: Why didn’t I contemplate helping any of the victims? Why did I put myself in so much danger? Why did I enjoy the whole scenario so much?

Was this the day I became a photographer but lost my humanity?


Dazed and confused passengers await the emergency services


The passenger train in flames

Salford Rail Crash.jpg

A photograph from an unknown source shows the scene and my proximity

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