A driver was lucky to escape with his life when he abandoned his stricken car at a level crossing – moments before it was dragged 300m down a railway track by a nuclear waste train.
The 46-year-old man is thought to have lost control of his silver Ford Fiesta on the bend approaching the New Road crossing at Silverdale.
The man from the Kendal area managed to climb out and flee his stranded vehicle before it was hit by the engine and two empty wagons, which were travelling at around 50 mph from the Sellafield power plant in West Cumbria to Crewe.
The driver looked on as his vehicle was dragged down the track before the train was able to come to a halt just after 7pm on Tuesday.
It did not derail and remained upright.
Both the train driver and the car driver were unhurt but treated for shock at the scene, just south of Silverdale railway station.
The train is used to take “spent” nuclear fuel to Sellafield but, as it was returning to Cheshire, was empty.
Despite that, anti-nuclear campaigners still raised concern.
Marianne Birkby, the Milnthorpe-based founder of Radiation Free Lakeland, said: “Radioactive waste should not be shunted around on trains through our towns and villages.”
Residents of nearby Warton and Carnforth reported hearing a rush of sirens and seeing a large-scale emergency response to the incident.
Lancashire Fire Service sent 35 personnel to the site, including its Chorley-based Urban Search and Rescue unit, which deals with structural and transport incidents.
Part of the car became lodged under the train and the crew had to transport their specialist equipment around half a mile down the line using a high-tech trolley, brought in from Preston.
A British Transport Police (BTP) spokesman said its officials along with Lancashire Police also attended.
The car was removed from the tracks at 12.50am on Wednesday.
The spokesman added: “Officers will now be working to establish how the car came to be on the tracks.
“The Rail Accident Investigation Branch and the Office of Rail Regulation have been informed.”
The dual-track Furness Line, which runs links Barrow and Lancaster, was shut as far as Carnforth after the crash and replacement buses brought in to take rail passengers between stations.
Road diversions were put in place to keep drivers away from the scene.
The crossing has warning lights and barriers covering half of the road either side of the junction.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “No allegations have been made regarding the safe working of the level crossing.
“Network Rail staff assisted the emergency services and the line reopened in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“There was no significant damage to the railway infrastructure.”
A spokesman for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said it would not be carrying out an investigation because the train was not carrying nuclear material.
He said that even if hazardous waste was on board, there would have been no risk to the public.