What followed was tragedy and destruction which could have been yet worse – as among the freight was ammunition.
The date was January 11, 1965, and the aftermath was captured in a picture in the possession of Malcolm Lees, of Leegomery, in Telford.
"At the time I worked on the railways, as a fireman in the Shrewsbury sheds," said Malcolm.
"That freight train was coming from Chester to Shrewsbury, and there was quite a steep decline into the Coton Hill sidings. That train, which was hauled by a diesel engine, started to run away and the crew couldn't control it coming down the bank.
"The driver was George Pike, a Shrewsbury man, and his second man on the diesel was Ken Cloreley, who I think was from Shrewsbury as well. It's funny how you can remember names from so long ago.
"George realised he was not going to be able to stop the train and told his second man to jump off. He was going to follow him.
"Ken Cloreley did jump and George hung his lunch bag on the horn of the diesel to warn everybody that there was a danger. But he never jumped off – he stayed on the train to try to stop it."
Malcolm added: "Where the train was coming down, there was a signal box at the end of this loop and the train ploughed through it, demolishing the signal box and unfortunately killing the signalman.
"It was just approaching the changeover of the shift of the signalmen and the signalman coming on duty for 6am had overslept and was cycling over the bridge to work and witnessed the train going through the Coton Hill South signal box where he should have been if he had been on duty at the right time. You can imagine how he felt.
"Unfortunately there was a danger because the train was carrying live ammunition as well, but I don't think there was any fire.
"George had to be cut out of the wreckage and in the process lost both legs. After a considerable time off he came back to work on admin duties in the engine sheds. He had two artificial legs.
"When they rebuilt the new signal box they did not put it in the same position."
According to contemporary reports of the crash, the diesel engine was drawing 48 wagons and crashed into a stationary diesel engine which was waiting to haul the Shrewsbury-Wolverhampton-Birmingham train into Shrewsbury station. One of the them then demolished the wooden one-man signal box.
The signalman who tragically died was Tom Ferrington, of Longden Coleham.
Malcolm says the picture he has was published at the time and he had sent for a copy of it.
He still keeps his hand in with the railways, as he drives steam locos on the Llangollen Railway.
Although a fireman in his railway career, he gained on-the-job steam loco driving experience.
"If you had a nice driver occasionally they would allow you to drive under supervision – unofficially, of course."