THE Hixon rail crash, which took place almost 50 years ago in January 1968, claimed the lives of 11 people with 45 injured, six of them seriously.

Richard Westwood’s book ‘The Hixon Railway Disaster – The Inside Story’ asks the question whether those lives might have been saved had more attention been paid to a similar incident – and near tragedy – which had happened in Leominster 14 months previously.

Although he now lives in Somerset, Richard Westwood, a teacher for many years in Herefordshire, a former mayor of Leominster and Labour Party candidate in the 1997 general election, will be known to many in the county.

His link to Hixon, by one remove, is a very personal one.

His dad Jack, a career railwayman, was one of two people whose intervention prevented carnage of a similar degree to what would later happen at Hixon, in Staffordshire.

Jack was one of party of railworkers who happened to be at hand when a low loader grounded on the Leominster level crossing, with its relatively recently installed automatic half-barrier, on November 8, 1966.

With an express train approaching at 90mph, Jack’s quick thinking in phoning the signal box up the line to try to slow the train and the lorry-driver James Horton’s efforts to bump-start the trailer off the crossing meant the train missed the lorry by inches and disaster was averted.

The telephone was only installed at the site thanks to the persistence of Bill Sparey, an NFU representative who lived locally.

But as the full details of the Leominster incident were not brought to the attention of the authorities, measures which might have saved the lives at Hixon where, by extraordinary coincidence, the same haulage firm – Wynn’s – was also involved, were not implemented.

Richard Westwood has done an extraordinary amount of research into the background of the two incidents. He reveals information which had not previously been published about the accidents and the inquiry which followed, casting a fairly damning light on British Railways and the Railway Inspectorate of the time.

It’s a fascinating read which will appeal not just to rail and county historians but anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes machinations of big business.

Mr Westwood will be signing books at Fletchers Newsagents on Broad Street between 11am and 3pm on December 9.

He will also be at the Castle Book Shop in Ludlow on Sunday, December 10 between 12noon and 2pm.

The Hixon Railway Disaster – The Inside Story by Richard Westwood is published by Pen & Sword Books Limited at £19.99