Brisbane's Worst Train Smash - 1947






          At 7.15 last night, the last body was removed from the wreckage of the special picnic train which crashed on the Samford Range at 9.55am, yesterday, in Queensland’s worst rail smash.

          The smash, 13½ miles from Central Station, killed 15 and injured 30. When searchers thought all the victims had been found, an elbow was seen jammed between the tender and the broken edge of the second carriage.

          Working feverishly with the aid of portable generating sets, rescuers cut away a big section of the carriage and extricated the body of a young girl.

          The picnic train, organised by the Customs and Excise social club, left Brisbane with nearly 500 women and children at 8.55am.

          At 9.55am, the leading carriage jumped the rails in a cutting a few miles on the Brisbane side of Closeburn, where the picnic was to have been held.

          Within seconds the engine overturned, and the first two carriages telescoped into the tender.

          Immediately the news of the crash was broadcast, cars carrying relatives of those on the train, headed for the cutting, followed by hundreds of morbid sightseers.

          Police had difficulty in controlling the crowds, who at times hindered rescue work.

          The Railways Commissioner, Mr. Wills, said last night that a full inquiry would be held into the cause of the accident.

          The cause of yesterday’s train accident was not known, he said. The line was of heavy rail, and in good order, and capable of carrying any train run in Queensland.

          The carriages were “not very old,” said Mr. Wills. The engine was of the C17 type, and the gradient of the accident section was one in 50.

          The line was used frequently in holiday periods to carry heavy passenger trains, and at normal times, carried usual branch line traffic.

This is what happened

          This is the full story compiled by Courier-Mail staff reporters, who went to the scene of the accident and interviewed survivors.

          The Customs Department social club, organised two years ago, had train trouble for its first picnic last year.

          The train could not climb Samford Range, and had to be split in two sections.

          Since February 14, every Customs officer in Brisbane had put in 6d a week towards expenses for a picnic at Closeburn, 18 miles from Brisbane, the same site as last year. There were to be a cricket match, afternoon dancing with a specially engaged orchestra, and sports.

          The picnic train left Central Railway Station at 8.57am. Besides the engine, coal tender, and a water gin, it consisted of seven wooden carriages and the guard’s van.

          The Class c17 engine weighed 76 tons. The carriages, the normal suburban type, each weighed 28 tons.

          Engine driver, Charles Hinds, 50, married, of Louten Street, Woolloongabba, was at the controls. With him was fireman Augustus Charles Knight, of Days Road, the Grange.

          It was estimated that there were 500 passengers, including 150 children.

          The train was to stop only at Brunswick Street, and Mitchelton, but it pulled in at Ferny Grove-last stop before the crash- at 9.40am, eight minutes behind time.

          More than 100 detrained, most of them from the front two carriages, which bore the brunt of the crash.

          Topping the Samford Range at 9.53am, the train began to run down the two-mile gradient.


          Within a minute, it was running fast. It swayed and rocked. Women and children began to scream in several carriages. It approached the sharp six-chain radius left bend leading into an S-curve slightly more than half-way down the range.

          Half-way round the bend the leading carriage jumped the rails. In the space of a measured 169 feet between this point and the end of the cutting, this is what happened.

          Leaving the rails, the engine rolled over on its right side, ploughed into the embankment, and stopped within a few feet. The coal tender went off the line, dug in nose first, and tilted upwards and sideway, with the rear end more than fifteen feet from the lines.

          Wrenched free from the tender, the 20ft water tank, remaining in the general direction of the line, was struck squarely by the leading carriage. The impact telescoped to carriage directly through the centre of the water tank, ripping the bogeys and wheels and massing them on the front undercarriages.

          Fittings, compartments, and mangled bodies, were swept aside as the carriage telescoped. Ten or twelve feet from the end, the tank slewed to the right, and brought up against the opposite embankment. Its twist lifted the entire carriage body clear of its undercarriage, which remained off the rails, but flat along the direction of the line.

          In the last one-third of the carriage, now lifted crazily more than 12 feet from the lines, almost the entire fittings of the carriage, and at least five mutilated bodies were jammed. Pressing in against them were the rear wheels of the engine, which had completely ripped through the near side of the carriage as it drove past.

          Torn clear from the first car, the second carriage drove off the lines, and embedded itself under the upturned tender, crushing the first two compartments as though a giant sledgehammer had hit them.

          The carriage itself, twisted and overturned to the right, the rear end again being flung high into the air, resting against the embankment. In the front of this carriage were nine people, six of whom were killed instantaneously, and the remaining three trapped for nearly six hours. The third carriage shifted off the rails, practically escaped damage. Its front buffers snapped like matchwood, and one was buried 20 yards along the line, but not one window was broken.

          In the end carriages, people kept on reading for a few seconds after the crash. They were not even thrown from their seats as the telescoping effect of the front carriages seemed to have acted as a gigantic shock absorber.


          Mr. J. O’Mara, of Parry Street, Bulimba, who was riding in the second carriage, said last night: “The train was rocking dangerously as it approached the bend. It appeared to be gathering speed. I realised that something was wrong and yelled ‘Hold on, here it comes,’ Then there was a terrible crash, and we were showered with flying glass, and flung all over the compartment. In the rear of the carriage, we picked ourselves up and clambered out through side windows. Women and children were screaming, and we could hear the groans of the wounded. One girl near us had been flung against a compartment and fractured her shoulder. We ran to the front of the train and helped people from the wreckage. Some of them had been flung halfway through twisted windows.”


          First man to leave for help at about 10.5am was Edward Hart, 41, of Albion Street, Albion. With blood streaming from a gash over his right eye, he clambered from the front compartment of the third carriage, and ran on down the line towards Samford.

          “I knew things were bad,” he said. “The station was not far, and it was the first place I thought of.”


          News of the tragedy, told to the station master 30 minutes later by Mr. Hart, galvanized Samford. An emergency rescue gang was formed within a few minutes from local farmers and shopkeepers. They climbed into trucks and cars and headed for the scene of the tragedy. With them went axes, saws, crowbars, picks and shovels.

          Back at the crash, uninjured passengers were assisting the less seriously injured out of the train. First outsiders to reach the crash were Sergeant J. F. Kunkel and Constable L. R. Fitch, of Mitchelton, who received a phone message a quarter of an hour after the tragedy from a nearby homestead.

          They arrived at 10.30am. Within the next 40 minutes, 14 ambulances, including six called in from the Labour Day procession, and all available cars from city headquarters, as well as others from Sandgate, arrived.

          First doctor on the scene was a Wickham terrace eye specialist, Dr. E. O. Marks, who was spending the day in his country home about two miles from the crash.


          “I came just as I was,” he said. “The ambulance were already there, but an ambulance man is not allowed to prepare a morphia injection.”

          “I prepared a hypodermic syringe and gave it to an ambulance man who crawled through the wreckage to within reaching distance of engine driver Hind. Unable to administer it from that distance, he gave the syringe to Hind, who, though pinned by a mass of twisted steel in the cabin, severely scaled by escaping steam, and suffering from shock, was still conscious. Hind took the syringe and gave himself the injection.”

          Dr. Marks then moved to the second carriage. Visible from the waist up in the crushed first two compartments were Miss Linda Glenny and Mr. and Mrs. T. McLean. Mr. McLean was wedged up against the right side of the carriage. His wife was lying half across him, with Miss Glenny wedged tightly against her. Forced across Miss Glenny’s lap was the body of a small boy.

          Between Mr. and Mrs. McLean’s tightly jammed bodies could be seen the head of a dead man. Protruding from the wreckage was the arm of a woman with a heavy gold bracelet round her wrist.

          Dr. Marks gave injections to these trapped passengers, who were conscious although suffering considerable pain and severe shock.


          With the morphia injections over, passengers, ambulancemen, and the emergency breakdown gang, made their first determined onslaught on the wreckage. Beneath the overturned engine’s wheels, they found the crushed body of the fireman, A. C. Knight. He had apparently jumped or been thrown from the cabin and killed instantly.

          Inside the cabin, bent almost double, engine driver Hind was jammed almost inextricably across the thighs and knees by the twisted metal of the control lever, steam pipe, and two Westinghouse air pipes.


          The time now was 12.30pm and the gangs set to work to extricate the injured from the wreckage. With axes and saws, they cut away the top of the first carriage which was barring their way in the fight to reach the driver. At the same time, more men started to cut away the side of the second carriage so that they could reach the people trapped there. Other men attempted to cut through the twisted metal from underneath.

          Constant morphia injections were given to the trapped survivors, who bore their ordeal with amazing fortitude.

          On his own in the shattered cabin, engine driver Hind actually assisted with a hacksaw and urged on his rescuers, two of whom were overcome with the heat and had to be assisted into the open.

          In the carriage, both women and Mr. McLean smoked cigarettes and joked with ambulance men who had clambered inside and were supporting their heads.

          As work progressed and the strain of the wreckage shifted, more weight fell on the lower limbs of these three. Several times Miss Glenny screamed with pain.

          At 3.00pm the body of a woman was found in the wreckage.




          At 3.30pm engine driver hind was lifted through a hole cut in the roof. Then unconscious, he was rushed to hospital where his condition last night was reported to be serious. At 3.40pm, the bodies of three children, including the boy who had been jammed against Miss Glenny’s legs, were removed. Five minutes later, rescue gangs simultaneously lifted Miss Glenny and a dead man, believed to be Frank Delaney, from the compartment.

          Redoubling their efforts, they had both Mr. and Mrs. McLean clear within the next 10 minutes. They had been trapped for more than six hours, but all three had a smile for their rescuers.

          Mrs. McLean’s first request was to ask the ambulance to get in touch with her mother, Mrs. J. B. List, of Torbanlea, near Maryborough, who was looking after her two children, Dorothy 14, and Thomas, 12.

Last Rites

          When the McLeans had been released, work was continued to free bodies still buried in the wreckage. Ashgrove parish priest, Father D. Cremin, administered last rites to the dead during the progress of the rescue work. On one occasion, crawling through the debris, he could reach only a woman’s hand. On another, only a head was visible.

          The Rev. H. R. Heaton, who was with a Methodist Church picnic party at Samford, heard of the tragedy, and came to join the rescue workers. He brought with him tea, water, and sandwiches for the rescue workers.

          Information on the rescue work was wirelessed directly back to the police wireless  station VKR in the police depot during the afternoon. With the arrival of the Railway Commissioner (Mr. Wills), who drove direct from Tamborine during the afternoon, a special telephone was connected to the trains room at Roma Street.

          First news of the tragedy was given to Queensland by special flash to the 14 stations linked in the Queensland Radio News Service.

          Throughout the afternoon, crowds estimated at between 400 and 600 lined the railway fences near the cutting to watch the rescue work. A Red Cross Blood Transfusion unit under Dr. Shaw went to the smash, but it was not needed.

          Hundreds of people called the Blood Transfusion Unit, and offered their blood for the injured. Shortly after 4.30pm, more than 20 onlookers were enlisted to aid the breakdown gang, who worked non-stop late into the night to recover the bodies.


          The last body was removed from the wreckage at 7.15pm, and work was begun clearing the line at 8.00pm. The Chief Locomotive Engineer of the Railway Department, Mr. Norman Kenny, who is in charge of the workers, estimates that the line will not be cleared until Wednesday.

          The last body was discovered when searchers saw an elbow jammed between the tender and the broken edge of the second carriage. Workmen had to cut away a big section of the carriage to extricate the body- that of a young girl.

          Police officials and Mr. Kenny then conducted a thorough search of the train to ensure that no bodies had been missed. Work of clearing the wreckage could not be undertaken until it was certain that everybody had been found.

          All night lighting was provided from portable generating sets sent out by the Brisbane City council and the City Electric Light Co., following a request from railway authorities.

          Mr. Kenny said that no heavy equipment would be necessary to clear the wreckage of the engine, tender, water tank, and three coaches.

          The wrecked coaches are being broken up with axes and other implements and dragged clear by a “forest devil”- a geared winch.


          By 10.00pm, most of the first carriage structure had been cleared from around the water tank. Three Red Cross workers remained on the spot all night. In eight hours up to 9.00pm, they prepared 30 gallons of tea for survivors, police and workers. During the day, the three Red Cross men were assisted by six girl drivers.

Deathroll nearest to yesterday’s smash occurred near Traveston, near Gympie, on June 9, 1925, when nine were killed and 55 were injured. Two coaches of the Rockhampton mail fell from a bridge into a ravine


Daphne Cochrane, 20 of Evelyn Street, Newstead, was on the Customs House switch before she was knocked down in the city by an American truck on V.P. night. Her skull and leg were then fractured.

Francis Delaney- 19, of Lamington Avenue, Doomben, went to the picnic yesterday with Miss Cochrane. He was a rubber worker and boxer, and was to have fought at the Brisbane Stadium on Friday. Five years ago, his father was knocked down by an American truck and killed.

William Kitchen, 53 of Moore Street, Morningside, was a searcher in the Brisbane Customs’ House shipping branch. He was with the R.A.A.F. security staff during the war. His wife, Mrs. Olive Kitchen, and their son Trevor, also was killed.

Francis Aubrey Pitman, 57, was senior inspector and second in charge of the Queensland Customs. He entered the service in 1905, and came to Queensland from Tasmania a few months ago.


          For hours, relatives of people who had set out on the trip pressed forward trying to identify the injured as they arrived at the General Hospital.

          The casualty ward had been cleared, and extra medical and nursing staff were standing by.

          Nurses on leave who were attending the sports at the Exhibition, telephoned to the hospital when they heard of the disaster, offering to return and help.

          Soon after midday, the first ambulance brought the survivors. Emergency operations were performed, and the patients wheeled to wards.

          Ambulances continued to arrive at intervals until the last of the injured were brought in at 5.30pm- 7½ hours after the smash.

Was not afraid

          “I feel all right, thank you,” were Mrs. Emily McLean’s first words as she was lifted from the ambulance after her seven hour ordeal pinned in the wreckage of the second carriage.

          “I knew they would get me out in the end, and my husband, Tom, was lying there beside me smoking cigarettes, so I wasn’t afraid.”

          Mr. McLean, who, with his wife, was the last to arrive at the hospital, grimaced with pain as he was lifted from the stretcher.

          “I thought we seemed to be going rather fast, and I had just turned towards my husband when there was a terrible crash,” said Mrs. McLean.

          “I seemed to be flying through the air, then everything went black. When I woke up, there was a terrible pain in my legs and people were screaming.”

          “After a while I heard people chopping at the wood above me.”

          Several times, while ambulance men and railway workers were trying to release Mrs. McLean, she screamed with pain, and they had to stop work.

          Graham McNamara, young son of Mr. and Mrs. A. M. McNamara, of Wynnum Road, Norman Park, who rushed straight from the University to the hospital when he heard of the tragedy, broke down when told that his father was dead and his mother was severely injured.

          High tribute was paid by the injured to the sister in charge of the casualty ward.


KEVIN FRANCIS ARMSTRONG- 24, single, Gloucester Street, South Brisbane.

GREGORY BROWN, 9, of Junction Road, Morningside.

REGINALD BYRNES, 31, married, Eva Street, Coorparoo.

JOYCE BYRNES, 30, his wife.

MOYA EDITH CHRISTIANSEN, 24, married, Peach Street, Greenslopes.

DAPHNE COCHRANE, 20, single, of Evelyn Street, Kedron.

FRANCIS DELANEY, 19, single, of Lamington Avenue, Doomben.

IDA BEATRICE DOWD, 36, married, Mellor Street, Morningside.

MICHAEL KEARNEY, 12, corner of Wynnum Road, and Moore Street, Morningside.

WILLIAM KITCHEN, 53, married, of Moore Street, Morningside.

OLIVE KITCHEN, his wife.

TREVOR KITCHEN, 9, their son.

AUGUSTUS CHARLES KNIGHT, of Day’s Road, Grange, train fireman.

ROBERT HAROLD McNAMARA, 52, married, of Wynnum Road, Norman Park.

FRANK AUBREY PITMAN, 57, married, Bowen Street, New Farm.



MELVA BALKIN, 24, Bank Street, West End, severed left leg, severe shock, seriously ill.

FLORENCE BARTELS, 18, single, Abbotsford Road, Mayne, fractured right collarbone, shock.

COLIN CHRISTIANSEN, 36, married, Peach Street, Greenslopes; probable fractured skull, lacerations to forehead, probable fracture left collarbone, shock, seriously ill.

JEAN CUSKELLY, 43, married, Fernberg Road, Rosalie, fractured right leg, injury right arm, shock.

EDITH FORD, 47, married, Peach Street, Greenslopes: probable fracture left leg, forehead lacerations, sever shock.

DONALD FORD, 54, married, Peach Street, Greenslopes, injuries to head and chest, shock.

LINDA GLENNY, 24, single, Masters Street, Teneriffe, injury right leg, sever shock.

CHARLES HINDS, 50, married, driver of the train, of Lotus Street, Woolloongabba; severe burns to trunk and limbs, lacerated right elbow, abrasion right hip, shock; dangerously ill.

THOMAS McLEAN, 34, married, Edith Street, Newstead; contused legs, shock.  

EMILY McLEAN, 31, married, Edith Street, Newstead, contused legs, shock.


DESMOND BALKIN, 25, single, Bank Street, West End; severely lacerated left leg; shock.

PHYLLIS BALKIN, 56, married, Bank Street, West End, abrasions to face, sever shock.

MAY BEAMISH, 34, married, Gray’s Road, Gaythorne, dislocated left shoulder, shock.

DARRELL CARNEY, 9, New Cleveland Road, Morningside, abrasions to right knee and face, shock.

KEVIN CUSKELLY, 8, Fernberg Road, Rosalie, abrasions to face and both legs, contusion to forehead, shock.

ALFRED CUDS, married, Brisbane Street, Ipswich, shock.

MAURICE DOWD, 40, married, Mellor Street, Kedron, abrasions and contusions to face and left thigh, lacerated legs.

ARTHUR FRANCIS, 22, single, Ipswich Road, South Brisbane, shock.

JOSEPHINE HENRY, 52, Wynnum Road, Norman Park, injury to left hip, severe shock.

NEVILLE KITCHEN, 19, single, Moore Street, Morningside, shock.

ETHEL LANGE, 22, single, Omar Street, West Ipswich.

REGINALD MACKLIN, 52, married, Wellington Street, Wooloowin, lacerated right hand, shock.

ELIZABETH MACKLIN, 49, married, Wellington Street, Wooloowin, contused right leg, shock.

BETTY MACKLIN, 19, Wellington Street, Wooloowin, shock.

WINIFRED MANN, 32, married, Wellington Street, Wooloowin, shock.

PATRICIA MANN, 2, Wellington Street, Wooloowin, shock.

DOROTHY McNAMARA, 56, married, Wynnum Road, Norman Park, severe injuries to back, severe shock.

FLORENCE McCORMACK, 51, married, James Street, New farm, lacerations to head, shock.

MAUREEN McCARTHY, 23, single, Brisbane Road, East Ipswich, injury left forearm, severe shock.

IVY PITMAN, 56, married, Bowen Street, City, abrasions and contusions to legs and face, shock.