Horrified passengers witnessed a railway guard plunge to his death from his train.
Tragic Alex Holden, 34, a conductor for Northern Rail, was struck by another train close to Skew Bridge, between Preston and Leyland stations.
There were a number of passengers on the 8.17am Preston to Hazel Grove service, when Mr Holden was apparently seen to unlock a cab door at the back of the moving train and plunge from the carriage straight into the path of the oncoming 7.17am Manchester to Blackpool Northern Rail service.
The driver of Mr Holden’s train, unaware of the incident, continued to Leyland Station before leaving his cab to ask stunned passengers where his guard had gone.
Shocked passengers were taken off the train at Leyland and the line was closed to allow investigators to attend.
British Transport Police (BTP) and Leyland Police visited the scene with paramedics but Mr Holden was pronounced dead.
Today a Preston commuter, who was travelling on the train, said: “When we got to Leyland station, the driver came out and said ‘Has anyone seen the conductor? I think I have left him in Preston’.
“A man said he thought he had seen him jump out the doors while it was moving into the path of a train coming in the other direction.
“People just started crying, it was awful.
“Then a message came over for the driver that control needed to talk to him. It was such a shock, I was really shaken.”
One grandmother saw the 999 crews arrive in Factory Lane, Penwortham, and make their way up on to the railway which crosses the dead-end road.
She said: “There were five or six police vehicles, there was an ambulance and a paramedic. They parked up and went up on the railway.
“They were there a good three hours. I heard them coming, the sirens were on. Then we heard more and more sirens and there were police and ambulances and all sorts.”
Mr Holden, affectionately known to his work mates as Fub, was an experienced guard, based at Manchester Victoria station where he served as an RMT health and safety rep.
The friendly railway enthusiast, described as a “gentle giant” and a “railway legend” by devastated colleagues, had enjoyed a horse-racing trip with work pals on Sunday.
On Monday he sent his apologies to a meeting of the Islington Estate Tenants and Residents’ Association in Salford, Manchester, where he was secretary.
Kevin O’Neill, vice secretary, said: “He will be greatly missed.”
It is understood Mr Holden had spoken to fellow workmates in the staff room at Manchester Victoria station when he started his shift on Tuesday and had a newspaper and bottle of pop with him in his cab.
But just a few hours later colleagues at Northern Rail, which runs services across Lancashire, were left reeling from the tragedy. More than 100 have left messages on a special webpage in tribute.
One worker said: “You were a big man with a big heart. Today will be remembered as the day we at Victoria lost a colleague, a great workmate, and to us all, you were a friend.”
Another added: “ At least there’ll be no fare dodgers in heaven.”
Ian Bevan, managing director of Northern Rail said: “It was with great shock and sadness that we learnt of yesterday’s incident.
“Our colleague was well liked and respected by all those who knew him. The thoughts of everyone at Northern are with his family and friends, and we are doing everything we can to support them.
“In any situation such as this a full chain of care takes place for anyone involved and we offer counselling to any employee who requires it.”
A BTP spokesman added: “Enquiries are ongoing to establish the circumstances leading up to his death, but, at this stage, we are not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident.”
Preston Coroner’s Office said it had been told.