March 4, 1989 is, for many of us, an unremarkable date. But for passengers who were on the 12.17pm train from Littlehampton to Victoria it is a date for ever printed in their memories. Carol Clark and her husband Colin, both from Worthing, were on their way to London to see a West End show.

Colin, 55, a journalist, was killed in the crash which happened yards from Purley Station in Surrey. The other passengers from Sussex who died were Jane Taylor, 79, from Courtney Gate, Hove, Edith Greene, 74, of The Drive, Hove, and Eric Simper, 60, of Fairview Avenue, Worthing.

Crash investigators found the Littlehampton train had gone through a red light. It was travelling at about 60mph when it clipped the back of a train travelling from Horsham, causing the front six coaches to fall down a steep embankment.

Train driver Robert Morgan, from Ferring, near Worthing, pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter in 1990 and served four months of an 18month sentence at Ford open prison near Arundel. But in 2007 his conviction was quashed by judges at the Court of Appeal.

It transpired there had been problems with the signal prior to the crash and other trains had also gone through the red light.

Lord Justice Latham said: “Clearly, something about the infrastructure of this particular junction was causing mistakes to be made. There is no way that we can say accordingly that these convictions are safe.

Mr Morgan, who was badly injured in the accident, spoke on the court steps after the appeal. He said: “My thoughts will always remain with those who lost their loved ones. Survivors described the ordeal as like being in a cement mixer and, for many of them, it took years for them to recover.”

Fiona Donnelly-Rheaume, who lived at the time in Norton Road, Hove, was haunted by hallucinations and nightmares about the crash. She lost her job, home and her fiancé in the six months afterwards and received treatment for psychological trauma for the following year.

The accident proved to be a life-changing experience. She said: “I was so lost after the accident that I knew I had nothing to lose in having a fresh start. I was so scared to get on trains. I was so shaken by every bump on the rails.

“I didn’t like the quivering mess I became when faced with a train trip.”

The first memorial of the crash proved to be a turning point. Fiona met a woman whose mother had been sitting opposite her on the train and had been killed.

She said: “This bereaved lady so graciously said that I had my whole life ahead of me and her mother had lived a good life and she was happy to see that my life had been spared.”

Fiona moved to Germany, where she met her future husband and qualified as a teacher. She now lives in Canada and has a 14-year-old daughter. Every year on March 4 her thoughts are with the other victims of the disaster. She said: “I am truly grateful to be alive.”

As in other major disasters there were tales of bravery against the odds. Tony Squires, who went on to become mayor of Littlehampton, was a guard on the train.

His guard’s van had rolled down the embankment and he was bruised and covered in blood. Despite his injuries, he returned to the train and scrambled up the muddy slope to help others.

Speaking after the crash, he said: “I’m no hero. I just did what had to be done.”

Tim Fellows, from Polegate, was a rookie ambulanceman and was returning from a job in London when police flagged him down.

He helped treat the hordes of injured passengers as they emerged from the wreckage. Tim said: “It was really going in at the deep end. I had only been in the ambulance service for six weeks at the time.

“I stayed by the ambulance treating three or four patients while my colleague went to the main area of crash.”

Ninety four people were injured in the accident. To mark the anniversary of the tragedy, survivors and the loved ones of those who died gathered for a memorial service at the station on March 4.

A minute’s silence was held followed by the laying of wreaths and flowers.