A RAILWAY signalman responsible for monitoring 16 unmanned level crossings was engaged on another call seconds before a tragic collision, an inquest heard today (Monday).

Derek Emmerson, a signaller for 18 years, was manning the box at Malton when pensioner Eric Ireland was preparing to cross in his car.

At the time, Mr Emmerson was halfway through a 30-second call from a driver at another crossing.

The signalman warned that two trains were coming and the driver should call back later.

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 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.

He then put the phone down and pressed a button to ring the crossing back.

The phone was not ringing and he was about to report it as a fault because "someone was clearly trying to use the crossing".

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 hearing was told Mr Ireland, 77, of Moorsholme, Scampston, near Rillington, had been using the crossing for more than 50 years.

He had worked at Ivy Lea Farm and on May 7 had offered to help look after the pigs while the owners were 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, police accident investigators said.

First Transpennine ?Express driver John Buckle saw something blue in the distance but thought it was 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.

He slammed on the brakes and sounded the horn.

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 reinstalled.

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."