Scots train driver Iain Black, 50, was at the wheels of the three-year-old Virgin Pendolino for the 5.15pm service.
But just under three hours later, disaster struck as the express derailed as it sped on the West Coast Main Line near Grayrigg in Cumbria.
One woman could be heard desperately crying “Mum! Mum! Mum!” as she lay beside her fatally injured mother.
Grandmother Margaret Masson, 84, from Cardonald, Glasgow, was to be the only victim of the crash that injured 86 passengers and two crew members on February 23, 2007.
Poorly maintained points on the track were to blame.
Mr Black, from Dumbarton, had been a driver for seven years prior to the accident. He said he had no chance of regaining control of the train.
He broke his neck as he was flung into the ceiling of his cab when the train careered off the line at 95mph and slid down an embankment with some coaches jack-knifing through 190 degrees.
“You can only see 15ft in front of you,” he told an inquest. “Had I noticed the points out of sync, I could not stop the train. With 300 tonnes of metal at 95mph it is going to go wherever it wants. I had no control.”
Mr Black remained in his cabin to steer the train along stone for half a mile when he saw the track was defective.
Described as a hero by Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson, the driver used his mobile phone to alert colleagues to the danger as he drifted in and out of consciousness.
Sir Richard said Mr Black’s actions stopped the train falling over an embankment.
Mrs Masson, known as Peggy, had boarded the train at Preston, Lancashire, with her daughter and son-in-law, Margaret and Richard Langley. Mr Langley, 63, a retired train conductor, whose subsequent death was not related to the crash, remembered suddenly being “six feet in the air”. He was trapped between a table and train wall as the carriage came to rest on its side.
In a statement read out to the inquest he said: “Margaret was lying on her stomach face down. Peggy was lying directly across Margaret, on her stomach face down. Peggy was shouting, ‘Margaret! Margaret! Margaret!’ and Margaret was just saying, ‘Mum! Mum! Mum!’.
“I think Peggy called out on two other occasions. Margaret was not panicking, she was just talking to her mum. I kept slipping in and out of consciousness.”
Mr Langley was airlifted to hospital where he had a life-saving operation on his lung.
Mrs Masson was rushed by helicopter to the Royal Lancaster Hospital but died from her injuries at 11pm, less than three hours after the crash.