Thursday, 26 April 2018

The Warrimoo Train Smash--1930

The Warrimoo Train Smash—1930

At 6.25pm on Monday 27th January the excursion train service consisting of two steam locomotives along with 8 carriages filled with passengers and a brake van, left Mount Victoria headed for Sydney Central. It was a drizzly summer evening and the tourists on board were weary from the eager pursuit of Mountains’ bushwalking exertions—it was the end of the Summer school holidays .

'Coupled' steam locomotives of the type used by NSW Government Railways in the 1930's

 But there was something different about this journey: earlier in the day a freight derailment between Warrimoo and Blaxland had blocked the ‘up line’ to Sydney (all rail lines leading to Sydney are ‘up’ lines, all those leading away are ‘down’ lines, regardless of whether the train is going uphill or down). Thus, trains heading to Sydney had to be diverted from the ‘up’ line at Valley Heights to rejoin it at Blaxland. They were thus travelling on the ‘down’ line in the opposite direction to that normally taken. This was not drastically abnormal, and in fact, 8 trains had already travelled that way in the hours prior to the arrival of the 6.25 from Mt. Victoria.

Everything works well as long as the track ‘points’ along the way are all adjusted for the reverse direction—especially since this excursion train had two locomotives leading it, an extra one being necessary for work at Blaxland. Both locos had a Driver, Fireman and a Pilot lookout on board as the train edged eastward beyond Warrimoo Station at about 10 miles per hour (15kms per hour).

Warrimoo Station as it would have appeared in 1930. The wooden structure is the 'Waiting Shed' and the overhead bridge is in place. The 'Up' track is on the far side, and the 'Down' track on the near side of the platform.

 Most Warrimoo residents were feasibly completing their evening meal and settling down to a good night’s sleep when they were jarred from their peaceful routine by raucous screeching noises and a heavy crunch of iron coming from the railway. The newspapers take up the story…

The excursion train was travelling at a very slow speed when the mishap occurred, and this fact, no doubt, prevented a grave disaster, in which many passengers must have been involved. The leading engine passed safely over the catch-points about a quarter of a mile (400-450 metres--WH) on the Sydney side of Warrimoo, but the second engine fouled the points and left the rails. The heavy locomotive bounced along the permanent way for some yards and then took a sudden lurch to the right and "nose-dived" over a 16ft (5 metre—WH) embankment.

Realising their extreme danger the crew of this engine leapt clear, and were uninjured. The sudden lurch of the engine, however, threw the leading locomotive off the rails and caused it to turn over on its side with portion of it projecting over the brink of the embankment. Those in the cabin of the engine, including McGarrity, were pinned down by the twisted ironwork, and it is believed that the driver and fireman were killed instantly.

The brake-van was derailed, but the carriages did not leave the line.[1]

Newspaper 'picturegram' of the crash--the second engine has pushed the tender of the first into the cabin, where two crew members were killed instantly and Joseph McGarrity was pinned for several hours. This angle is the 'shallow' side of the wreckage, the other side is the steep embankment above Railway Parade.

As the second loco lurched forward to push the lead engine off the rails and down the embankment, it crushed the cabin containing Driver Harold Hanna, 32, and Fireman Edward Smith, 26, both of Springwood, killing them instantly. Yet a 16 year old ‘Junior Porter’, Joseph McGarrity of Station Street Blaxland, survived with his arm and leg pinned amid the heavy iron of the wreckage. His account is as follows…

Although the night was cloudy the track was not so dark, and I heard the fireman call out loudly to the driver: 'Hold her, driver. The points are open!' After that I remember a screech of brakes and then we toppled over. Everything went black. When I came to I was in great pain. My right leg and hand were jammed and I was held up by my hand. The leg hurt very much, but the pain of my hand was worse. I thought I would never be rescued; I was almost smothered. I noticed the feet of the driver and fireman dangling over me, and I felt blood trickling down on to me.[2]

In the hectic moments that followed, the crew from the second engine sought to calm the rattled passengers, some of whom were disembarking and wandering towards the scene. It was a miracle the remaining carriages did not come off the rails. Help was immediately sought by telephone from Warrimoo to Blaxland Station and Valley Heights, and a repair carriage was sent from Penrith post haste.  Railway Headquarters at Eveleigh sent a full Repair Train to the accident site, complete with crane and other heavy lifting equipment.

Another angle of the second locomotive, after the  passenger carriages had been removed back to Warrimoo Station until the tracks were cleared. You can see that it was relatively easy for the crew of this engine to jump to safety--not so for the Fireman and Driver of the first loco.

 Amid the chaos someone had the wherewithal to contact two doctors, Baxter and Boser, both from Valley Heights—they were confronted with a horror scene…

When the break down train from Eveleigh (probably Penrith—WH) arrived about an hour and a half afterwards, the youth's leg was freed with the use of oxy-acetylene apparatus, but McGarrity was still pinned in the wreckage by his hand. The youth partly regained consciousness during his terrible ordeal.

The two doctors then performed a remarkable emergency operation. Drizzling rain, at times developing into a heavy downpour, and the escaping steam made conditions decidedly unfavourable for an operation, especially as the light thrown by the flares was very unsatisfactory. Dr. Boser administered an anaesthetic, and then Dr. Baxter amputated McGarrity's hand, and thus freed him. He had been pinned in the wrecked cabin for about two hours. A waiting ambulance waggon rushed the injured youth to Penrith Hospital, where he was admitted in a critical state. A further operation was performed soon after wards, and the arm was amputated.[3]

Young Joe McGarrity was grateful to have survived, though his arm was lost and his leg scorched by his oxy-acetelene rescuers, to testify at the Inquest that followed.

Most passengers were merely shocked and possibly bruised by the abrupt lurch-then-halt of the leading engines, but one notable escapee, Walter Aurisch, 21, of Long Bay, was discovered by a motorist wandering dazed and confused on the Highway. He was taken to Penrith Hospital where he was found to have suffered severe abrasions to the head causing serious shock and disorientation.[4]

The special 'Repair Crew' sent from Eveleigh Workshops rectified the damaged locomotives and repaired wayward tracks the next day. Services on the Mountains' line were interrupted for one day only. The damaged lives of dead  and injured crew members and accused rail employees were not  fixed so rapidly, however.

At the Inquest the Coroner, Mr. A. Judges, found that Robert Rupert Hindmarsh, fettler, and Alexander Angus Gollan, flagman, were ‘guilty of culpable negligence’ for not locking the points in place and not signalling that the points were open to the oncoming train.

McGarrity and the crew of the second loco had both confirmed that the points were seen to be open, and that there was no flagman present to signal the danger. Gollan had testified that he was heading towards Blaxland Station at the time of the smash because Hindmarsh had waved to him on the previous train, indicating that he was relieved and to head towards Blaxland. Hindmarsh for his part, said that he was simply waving to Gollan as a goodwill gesture—in short, the tragedy had occurred through mistaken communication.

Hindmarsh and Gollan were committed to trial for manslaughter and their Superviser, Signalman Berkeley, was severely censured for the casual manner in which he supervised the work of the other two men, who appear to have avoided custodial sentences.[5]

[1] TROVE, ‘Parkes Western Champion’ derived from the story in the SMH, Thurs 30th January, 1930,   p.1
[2] Ibid, p.1
[3] Ibid, p.1
[4] Ibid, p.1
[5] TROVE, ‘Daily Pictorial’ (Sydney), Thursday 13th February, p.7