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SLIDESHOW - Tebay Ten Years On: Carnforth victim’s parents speak of their “life sentence”

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“Sometimes it feels like ten years and others...just like it was yesterday”.

Holding a framed photograph of their son Darren, Tom and Christine Burgess reflect on a painful anniversary.

The 30-year-old was in the prime of his life in 2004.

He had just bought a house with fiancée Nicola in the same road as his parents; the keen sportsman was saving up for a trip to the Cheltenham Festival - and he was six months in to a new job as a railway engineer.

Darren had worked for Royal Mail since leaving school but quit as a postman the previous summer after becoming disillusioned with its privatisation.

Sitting beside his wife of 46 years in their home in Grosvenor Place, Carnforth, Mr Burgess said: “It turned out to be the worst decision he could have made.”

His wife smiled: “‘Going to the dogs’ was his way of putting the way the Royal Mail was going, so he applied for the railway and he got on.”

Mr Burgess, 65, is a railwayman himself and spent 34 years working the track until retiring early in April 2010.

And on the morning of February 15, 2004, he and Darren were working 40 miles apart – Darren at Tebay and his father at Scorton, south of Lancaster. At 8 o’clock, the group Mr Burgess was working with received a phone call to say there had been a terrible accident in Cumbria. “I knew Darren was working up north somewhere but I didn’t know exactly where”, he explained.

“So, this news came filtering through and I thought I’d give Darren a ring to see if he could shed any light on it.

“I must have rung his number 50 times, but I didn’t think too much of it because it’s very bad to get a signal up there in a lot of areas.”

But there was a more serious reason Darren was not picking up. Two hours earlier, he was directly in the path of the 16-tonne runaway wagon which careered more than three miles down the line.

He was killed when it rammed into his engineering gang at 40mph.

Mr Burgess said: “When I came home I went across to his partner’s house to see if he had left his phone at home or if she had heard anything but she hadn’t, so I phoned the depot at Carnforth but the information was vague. Eventually, another time that I called, they said ‘could you come down?’.

Joined by Darren’s partner and her mother, Mr Burgess made the fateful journey to the depot where he was given the shattering news by a senior rail manager at around 11am.

“I just went numb,” he said. “I couldn’t take it in. You just can’t believe going out to work and never coming home.”

He then drove to his wife’s workplace in Slyne to relay the awful message.

Retired care assistant Mrs Burgess, 65, recalled: “I just broke down and said ‘not my son’. We couldn’t even see him. They wouldn’t let us, I presume because he was so badly injured.”

The couple, who have lived in Grosvenor Place for 38 years, then broke the news to the rest of the family.

They drove to Highfield Road to tell their other son Paul, 45, who also happens to be a railway maintenance worker.

“It’s distressing when you lose your parents, but that’s the cycle of life,” Mr Burgess went on.

“When you lose a child it’s very, very difficult. Unless you’ve gone through that you can’t imagine what it’s like.”

Returning to the care industry she devoted 25 years of her life to is something Mrs Burgess was unable to do and she has been on anti-depressants since 2004.

She explained: “I loved my job but I felt angry at the situation. I had lost my son and I didn’t feel like I could cope with it so I didn’t go back.

“We didn’t go out in Carnforth for about a month. We used to go out walking and go to Crook O’Lune to get away. Every time a card came through the door there would be tears.”

Such is the tightness of the railway family, Mr Burgess knew other Tebay victims.

“I worked in the same maintenance gang as Chris Waters for about six years at Lancaster, he was a good friend. He was a big Arsenal fan and we had banter about football. He was a really good laugh and a really nice bloke.

“We got to know his family quite well after it all.

“I knew Colin Buckley for years because he was a Carnforth lad and had been on the railway for a lot of years. He was a nice bloke. He started on the railway 12 or 18 months after I did in the 1970s.”

Mr Burgess was away from work for six weeks after the accident but, being several years off retirement age, he did eventually return. And that meant going back to the same job Darren was doing when he died, something his wife struggled to cope with.

“I dreaded Tom going on a Saturday night when he was on nights,” said Mrs Burgess. “I couldn’t rest or anything.”

Mr Burgess continued: “I didn’t care for night work ever after that, it made me uneasy and apprehensive. It brought the job more into focus.”

The couple, who moved to Carnforth from Prospect Street in Lancaster in 1976, lived just yards from Darren.

He had bought a house with his partner in Grosvenor Place just six months before his death and was a popular face around the town.

Mrs Burgess said: “If we hadn’t seen him for a couple of days he used to come over. He was a right family man and he didn’t move far away.”

It was from that house that Darren set off for work the morning of February 15 - one hour earlier than usual.

And he might not have been working that morning at all. He had offered to do overtime to pay for a trip he was planning with friends.

A Preston North End fan, the sportsman played football for Millhead FC, cricket for Carnforth, was a one-time member of Silverdale Golf Club and loved horse racing.

Mr Burgess said: “He and his mates had decided they were going to go to Cheltenham Festival in March, so he was saving up and went into work, but he shouldn’t have been on that weekend.

“They went to work an hour earlier so they could leave sooner because the lads wanted to get home to watch the league cup football on the TV. It happened just after 6 o’clock and they probably wouldn’t have been on the track at the time. The runaway might have gone past them - it’s another twist of fate.”

Darren turned 30 on January 25 and decided to have a joint birthday party with life-long friend Wayne Tomlinson, known as Sam, the weekend before the tragedy. The close pair - best friends since they were toddlers - celebrated with loved ones at the Station Hotel, Carnforth.

Flicking through photographs of the night ahead of this weekend’s sombre date, Mrs Burgess reflected on what might have been of her son’s future. She said: “He had everything to live for. He was happy. He was a family man. He was hoping to climb the ladder on the railway.

“He wanted a family later in life. He loved children. You should never lose your child and it’s hard to put into words really.”

Mr Burgess said: “It’s changed our lives forever. We’re not the people we were. It changes your outlook on so many things. I just don’t seem to have the patience to do anything like I used to.”

His wife added: “You put a brave face on when you’re outside, but people don’t know what’s going on inside. We just learn to live with it. We have got the life sentence. We will never get over it.”

The couple will attend the 10th anniversary ceremony at the accident site, off the A685, just south of Tebay village, at 12pm on Saturday.

 

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