THE lives of around 750 train passengers were put in danger when a steam train passed a signal a minute after a high speed train to London had crossed the junction, a judge has heard.

Now both the train company and the driver of the passenger steam train will stand trial in Swindon Crown Court.

Melvyn Cox of Shirley Close, Swanage, Dorset, appeared at Swindon Magistrates' Court charged with failing to ensure the safety of his passengers on March 7, 2015, and disabling the train protection system.

The train's operator - West Coast Railway Company Limited - is also charged with two breaches of health and safety.

Prosecuting on behalf of the Office of Road and Rail, Mark Harris said the incident had taken place on March 7, 2015, when Cox was on the footplate of the steam train Tangmere as it went past the signal at danger at Royal Wootton Bassett junction.

A minute earlier a London bound high speed service had crossed the junction.

He said: "The train came to stop 689 metres beyond the signal and across the high speed junction.

"Whilst no accident actually occurred a catastrophic collision was only narrowly avoided between the two trains, which between them were carrying something in the order of 750 people.

"This was an extremely high risk case with potentially fatal consequences had an accident occurred."

The court heard the steam train had been able to pass the signal due to the isolation of a protection and warning system on board Tangmere which should have automatically applied the brake.

Mr Harris said: “It had in fact been deactivated and there were a range of other failures which are being prosecuting directly at the company."

No pleas were entered and District Judge Simon Cooper committed the case to Swindon Crown Court.

He said: “Quite clearly the isolation of the train warning system caused the train to pass the signal at danger at high risk to a large number of people. It is very much in the public interest that this is tried in a higher court.”

Both Cox and West Coast Railway Company Limited will appear in Swindon Crown Court on February 19. In the meantime Cox was released on unconditional bail.