GUEST COLUMN: Remembering the heroic driver who tried to stop rail disaster 59 years ago

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On February 9 1957, an out of control Buxton to Stockport freight train was hurtling down a steep gradient towards Chapel-en-le-Frith.

It was unstoppable as the steam brake had leaked, filling the driver’s cabin with scalding white clouds.

Driver John Axon and fireman Ron Scanlon were powerless to halt the train from the cabin and the steam meant they could not reach the controls anyhow.

The leak also meant the steam whistle didn’t work, so no alarm could be shrieked out as it sped along.

The crew at the rear of Axon’s train had remained unaware of the problems at the front and kept pushing the train forwards towards Dove Holes summit.

There were brakes on the wagons of the train too, and so Axon told Scanlon jump off and try and apply them manually.

He only managed to apply a few as the train slowed at the top of the hill, making hardly any difference with his valiant efforts.

At the summit the train turned downwards towards Chapel, picking up deadly speed.

Axon could have jumped clear as the train had slowed at the summit, but instead he chose to stay in the cabin and fight against the burning steam to try and slow the train by other means and save lives down the line.

Sadly his brave attempts had little effect, but they cost him his life. Staff at Dove Holes managed to clear some people off a train on the tracks, but at Chapel the runaway, with Axon still on board, smashed into another train, killing both him and the other train’s guard, John Creamer.

For his heroism, John Axon was posthumously awarded the George Cross, and an engine was later named after him.

The accident was the subject of a 1957 ‘Radio ballad’ the first of the series written by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, and was first transmitted on July 2 1958.

On the 50th anniversary of the crash a plaque to remember John Axon and John Creamer was unveiled at Chapel-en-le-Frith station.