A RAILWAY signalman responsible for monitoring 16 unmanned level crossings was engaged on another call seconds before a tragic collision, an inquest heard today.
Derek Emmerson, a signaller for 18 years, was manning the box at Malton when pensioner Eric Ireland was preparing to cross the tracks in his car.
At the time, Mr Emmerson was half way through a 30 second call from a pick-up truck driver at another crossing, who also wanted to cross.
The signal man warned that two trains were coming and the pick up driver should call back later to ensure it was safe to proceed.
During the course, of the call he saw a flashing light and heard a beep on his display board showing another crossing request was coming in from the crossing at Ivy Lea Farm, Rillington.
Mr Emmerson said he dealt with the first call in ten to 15 seconds. But when he picked up the second call there was nobody there.
The hearing was told Mr Ireland may not have used the phone and it may have been knocked off by the collision.
"It was just as though it was swinging in the wind," the signalman told the inquest at Scarborough Town Hall.
He then put the phone down and pressed a button to ring the crossing back. "There was still no answer," he continued.
The phone was not ringing and he was about to report it as a fault because "someone was clearly trying to use the crossing," he added.
But then a call came in from another signal box to say the Scarborough to Liverpool train had hit something - followed by a call from Ivy Lea to inform him of the accident.
When he spoke to the train driver involved, he realised the phone was off the hook, the hearing was told.
The inquest heard he monitored 16 local crossings. When someone wanted to use one, they picked up the phone by the gate and the line rang directly in the signal box.
Each crossing was labelled on his board and when a call came in there would be a flashing light and a high beep.
He would ask the caller if they were driving a car, tractor, or fork lift and how long it would take them to get across.
The signalman would then consult a panel showing train movements to see if it was safe to cross, or whether the caller should wait and call back.
He said the frequency of the calls varied according to the time of year and he was instructed to answer them as they came in.
"Sometimes, you get a lot of calls - especially at harvest time. At other times - not very many," he said.
The hearing was told Mr Ireland, 77, of Moorsholme, Scampston, near Rillington, had been using the crossing regularly for more than 50 years.
He had worked at Ivy Lea Farm for many years and even though he had retired he often popped by to help out.
On the morning of the tragedy on May 7, he had offered to help look after the pigs while the owners were away on holiday.
He was edging onto the tracks in his Suzuki at 6mph when the train struck him at 70mph.
The car rolled into a field. Mr Ireland was hurled from the vehicle and died from multiple injuries. He was not wearing a seatbelt - but it would not have saved him due to the damage to the car, police accident investigators said.
First Transpennine Express driver John Buckle saw something blue in the distance but thought it was some farming equipment in a field.
It was only when he was "on top of it" that he realised what he had seen was a car edging onto the tracks.
He slammed on the brakes and sounded the horn.
He continued: "I heard a bang. I was pretty much in shock at the time."
Realising another train was coming the other way, he waved and flashed his lights until it stopped, Mr Buckle said.
The inquest heard the phone box stand was damaged in the accident. But the phone was checked before it was re installed and was working properly.
Concluding the death was an accident, Coroner Michael Oakley said: "I'm satisfied on the balance or probabilities no call was made to the signal man - that the telephone that seemingly rang in his box was in fact the receiver being knocked off its rest when the post was damaged in the impact."