MEMBERS of a Lake District farming community who "opened their doors and hearts" to the shocked survivors of a devastating rail crash have been praised for their heroism following a week of drama and tragedy, reports Ruth Lythe.

Grayrigg residents and emergency services rushed to help at the scene of the derailed Virgin Pendolino train on Friday night - assisting with both the rescue effort or opening up their homes to "battered and bruised" strangers.

Eighty-four-year-old Margaret Masson from Glasgow died in the crash, which left 22 passengers needing hospital treatment, including Mrs Masson's daughter and son-in-law, Richard and Margaret Langley, of Southport.

People living close to the track reported hearing a loud bang as the 5.15pm London to Glasgow service flew off the tracks at 95mph and hurtled into neighbouring farmland.

Just minutes earlier the train, carrying 110 passengers and four staff, had pulled out of Oxenholme Station.

Survivors spoke of how the train started to sway from side to side before careering off the track - metres from a viaduct.

John Heaton Cooper, on whose land the train crashed, was first on the scene and set about helping free passengers in the second carriage of the train, which had overturned.

"Someone was calling for ladders, so I went into the house to get some and helped people down from the carriage, " he told The Westmorland Gazette.

"Their legs were shaking so much I had to put them on the rungs for them," he said.

As emergency services, including police cars, ambulances, fire engines, cave rescue teams, the International Rescue Corps and three Sea King helicopters, arrived on the scene the fields quickly turned into a quagmire.

Local farmers carried equipment to the derailed carriages on their quad bikes or helped drag vehicles from the mud with their tractors and 4x4s.

Other local residents directed emergency vehicles down the remote lanes to the site of the crash, which initially proved difficult for res-cuers to locate.

As a sea of blue lights filled the lanes around Grayrigg and helicopter searchlights swept the area, villagers braced themselves to cope with the survivors.

The village's school was used as an emergency reception centre, manned by the St John Ambulance, Women's Royal Voluntary Service, police and representatives from Virgin Rail.

Passengers, still clutching their luggage, were brought to register their details.

Injured passengers were taken to Westmorland and Furness General hospitals. More serious casualties were airlifted to Lancaster Royal Infirmary and the Royal Preston Hospital.

Yesterday (Thursday), five people remained at the RLI. Another five passengers remained at the Royal Preston Hospital, including Richard and Margaret Langley and train driver Iain Black. They were all said to be in a comfortable condition.

Unhurt passengers were either taken to the Castle Green Hotel, Kendal, or continued on their journeys.

Sir Richard Branson passed through police roadblocks around the scene on Saturday morning to attend the incident.

In an emotional speech he praised the efforts of Mr Black, 46, who stayed at the controls of the train as it left the track.

Later in the week, Sir Richard paid tribute to the local people who helped at the scene of the crash.

"I must say I was very impressed to hear how those kind people rallied round, opening their hearts and opening their doors to strangers in distress," he said.

Grayrigg became the centre of a media frenzy as dozens of journalists set up camp around the stricken train.

British Transport Police and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch started an in depth investigation at the crash scene.

Interim findings revealed that a set of points were faulty and that a scheduled inspection of the track might have been missed.

Bob Crow, the general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union, demanded a joint public inquiry into the Grayrigg accident and the Potter's Bar derailment that killed seven people in 2002.

The A685 between Grayrigg and Tebay was closed off as the first of the giant cranes designed to lift the carriages was put into place over a temporary road constructed through the fields.

The first of the carriages was lifted late yesterday afternoon (Thursday), see below, and the work is expected to continue until next Wednesday, (March 7). The A685 will remain closed throughout.

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