SOUTH Western Railways today paid tribute to an heroic train driver who reacted quickly to try and avert a crash at Salisbury and helping to save dozens of lives.

Seventy-four-year-old Robin Tandy from Salisbury had only seconds to react after realising that his train wheels were slipping on wet rails and he could not stop.

His quick thinking in applying emergency brakes before Sunday’s crash helped to prevent a high number of casualties.

Paying tribute, a South Western Railway spokesperson said: “We want to pay tribute to our driver who was injured on Sunday night.

“He is a deeply respected colleague, who has over 50 years’ experience of driving on this route and an excellent professional track record. All our drivers are regularly assessed to the highest standards and he has fully satisfied all requirements.

“Initial findings indicate that the driver acted in an impeccable way in a valiant attempt to keep his passengers safe, staying at the controls throughout. We thank him for his actions and we wish him a speedy recovery as he continues to be treated in hospital.”

Mr Tandy is said to have sustained ‘life-changing’ injuries in the crash but these were reported today as not being as serious as first thought.

He was airlifted by air ambulance to the University Hospital Southampton where he is being treated for his injuries.

It emerged yesterday that wet rails may have been partially responsible for the accident, which happened at 6.46pm as Mr Tandy’s train approached the Fisherton Tunnel outside Salisbury railway station.

Responding to the Rail Accident Investigation Branch's (RAIB) statement on the Salisbury rail incident, a SWR spokesman said: “RAIB’s statement on their initial investigation into the train collision near Salisbury on Sunday points to low adhesion between the wheels and the track as the most likely cause.

“Their early assessment shows the South Western Railway driver reacted correctly to the signals by braking to slow the train down.

“While the investigation has a long way to run, these initial findings are helpful to stop speculation and focus attention on the evidence about the likely cause of the collision.

“Our thoughts are with all those caught up in this serious accident and we will continue to cooperate fully with the relevant authorities as they continue their investigations.”

The accident occurred as the South Western Railways train coming from London Waterloo to Honiton failed to stop at the red light outside the Fisherton Tunnel.

It ran alongside a Great Western Railways train travelling from Portsmouth Harbour to Cardiff, with both trains being derailed.

The two trains approached the tunnel on different tracks but then collided near the entrance, sending sparks flying as they slid alongside each other.

Andrew Hall, the RAIB’s deputy chief inspector, said yesterday: "From the initial evidence we have collected, we know that that the passage of the Great Western train travelling from Eastleigh across Salisbury Tunnel Junction was being protected by a red signal.

"At this junction, trains coming from Eastleigh merge with those from Basingstoke, so the South Western service coming from Basingstoke was required to stop at that signal.

"Unfortunately, it did not stop and struck the side of the Great Western train at an angle such that both trains derailed and ran alongside each other into the tunnel just beyond the junction.

"Initial evidence indicates that the South Western train driver applied the brakes as it approached the junction and the red signal, but the train was unable to stop before passing the signal.

"This evidence suggests that the most likely cause of this was wheel slide, almost certainly a result of low adhesion between the wheels and the track. We are continuing to pursue this as a line of investigation amongst others.