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QUEENSLAND 

RAILWAY

 

DISASTERS  

 

Traveston

The Traveston Railway Disaster

Camp Mountain 

The 1947 Camp Mountain Rail Smash

Humphrey  

Marrawing  

Wallambilla

Wallumbilla

Beerburrum  

Hatfield, 

Black Mountain  

Additional links: 

South Brisbane

The South Brisbane Rail Smash

 

QUEENSLAND

RAILWAY

DISASTERS

Traveston

            At the time that it occurred, the tragedy which befell the Rockhampton Mail train in the early hours of 9 June, 1925, was the worst railway disaster in Queensland’s history.

          The accident occurred shortly before 2am when an obstruction under one of the trailing wheels of the leading bogie of the luggage van in the Mail’s consist caused the van to derail. The vehicle careered along in that perilous state for about 2.4km before it plunged over the side of the 96 Mile Bridge on the northern side of Traveston, taking with it two carriages.

          The guard had a lucky escape from also ending up in the creek bed when the couplings between his van and the derailed luggage van snapped shortly before the latter van went into the ravine.

          The Brisbane Courier newspaper of 10 June 1925, described how the view from the accident bridge “presents a mangled mass of debris, quantities of which are in splinters and matchwood.”

          “It can be likened to heaps of the waste of carpenters or joiners. How any of the passengers escaped is little short of a miracle,” the Courier observed.

          Most deaths and injuries occurred in a composite van that went over the side of the bridge. Passengers from the front section of the train which stayed on the rails quickly tried to help those injured, however, it would take the arrival of doctors and ambulance from Gympie for any substantial treatment to take place.

          Among the fatalities was a boy, 4, who died in his mother’s arms, and a Bundaberg woman who had only been married in Brisbane the day before the accident. Her husband of 24 hours sustained head injuries. There were fortunate escapes too, as outlined by Queensland Parliamentarian, Mr. George Carter, M.L.A., who had been travelling on the southbound Rockhampton Mail that came upon the disaster scene shortly after 2am.

          “I saw a little baby boy of about 18 months, crawl unconcernedly from underneath the debris, sucking at its dummy, apparently none the worse for his terrible experience,” Mr. Carter recounted.

          The bridge where the disaster occurred was a small wooden one spanning a gully about 10.5 metres deep.

          News of the disaster was first received at Gympie at 2.30am. The station master there, Mr. Moynihan, quickly organised a breakdown gang, doctors and ambulance staff and a relief train was able to leave at 3.15pm.

          At the scene of the tragedy, it was soon learnt that nine people were dead and 48 were injured. Rescuers literally had to break open some of the damaged carriages and jack up some to extract the survivors. By 6.30am, however, the two locomotives and the front portion of the train were able to continue on to Gympie, taking with it the injured passengers.

          The bodies of those who had died in the derailment were brought in about 5.30am and taken to the Gympie Hospital morgue.

          Soon after the accident it became apparent that some passengers had been aware of the impending danger, however, had been persuaded not to take preventive action.

          John Stevens, 33, of Sydney, for example, told the Brisbane Courier of how he had looked out of the window of his carriage shortly before the accident and had seen “fire and sparks” issuing from the wheels of the derailed luggage van and had experienced a jolting and rumbling sensation.

          Stevens had gone to pull the emergency communication cord but was told by a fellow traveller not to do so as the sensation was only caused by the train rounding a sharp curve. Shortly after the luggage van went over the side of the bridge.

          The train of 13 vehicles was headed by a B17 4-6-0, No 683, and PB15, 4-6-0 No 388. The consist was made up of a travelling post office, a mail wagon, four sleeping cars, five sitting cars, a baggage wagon and a brake van.

          A Court of Inquiry was set up after the tragedy with Mr. Justice Webb presiding.

          The guard of the Rockhampton mail on the night of the disaster, Mr. Peter Starkie, told the inquiry he had heard a noise as if something was moving in the van at the spot where the derailment occurred.

          Later, Starkie had heard another sound in the down-pipe of the lavatory in the guard’s van. On each occasion he had looked out but did not see or hear anything unusual.

          Starkie said, however, that a passenger had mentioned to him at Caboolture that he could smell a hot box. Starkie had looked at the train and saw no evidence of a hot box. At Palmwoods, Inspector Miles had told Starkie there was a hot box on the second-class coach. Starkie had again checked but found no signs of the hot box.

          Starkie told the inquiry that immediately before the disaster, he had heard a tremendous crash and made a grab for the Westinghouse brake. He got out of his van and discovered that a terrible accident had occurred. Starkie said the train was travelling about 32 kph at the time of the accident.

          Ganger, Michael Lourigan, said he had reached the scene of the accident at 4.10am on the morning of the disaster. He had inspected the line from the point of the accident to where derailment had originally occurred but saw nothing present to indicate that the track was out of order.

          Lourigan said there was nothing to indicate that the derailment was due to excessive speed. He told the enquiry that due to increased traffic on the North Coast line, it had been more difficult to keep the line up to first class standard.

          Lourigan also said that the B17 class locomotives were very hard on the track which was built for far lighter traffic that it was now receiving.

          John William Thornton, a Queensland Railways flying ganger, told the inquiry that he had gone to the scene of the accident on 9 June and found 133 broken sleepers and 250 dog spikes. He believed that something must have struck one of the wheels to cause the derailment. Thornton said that the line from Gympie to Caboolture was in “fair condition,” however heavy rains in recent months had resulted in the line having some soft spots in its formation.

          Ernest Edward Porter, a railway fettler, said that he had been over the line on the day before the accident and had reported a “nip in the joint” about 7.3 metres, or a rail’s length, back from the location of the derailment. Porter said he did not think it significant and believed that it had not contributed to the accident.

          The inquiry found that the fateful train had been thoroughly examined and no blame was attached to examiners or engineers. It found that the derailment that led to the disaster was caused by an obstruction under one of the trailing wheels of the leading bogie of the luggage van in the consist.

          Evidence suggested that it was the bottom part of the brake-shoe holding the block over the leading wheel. The inquiry exonerated the engine crews; however, in the case of the guard, Peter Starkie, who had had a “splendid record” of more than 40 years service, it was forced to conclude that had he been as alert as he claimed to have been, his attention would have been drawn to the plight of the luggage van before the disaster occurred.

          The inquiry stated its regret that passengers had not pulled the emergency stop cord earlier.

          Two of the suggestions to come out of the inquiry, however, were instrumental in effecting changes to the operation of the Queensland Government Railways. The use of goods wagons on mail trains was restricted to specially approved vehicles and baggage cars were built specially for use on passenger trains.

          At the same time, Mr. R. A. Neild’s patented train stop- which had been on some of the carriages of the Rockhampton Mail, but unfortunately not on the wagons that left the line- was fitted to most carriages.  

Courier Mail: The Traveston Railway Disaster

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Camp Mountain, Queensland, 5 May 1947.

            Australia’s worst railway accident in almost 21 years- and the worst railway accident in Queensland to date- occurred when a crowded picnic excursion train left the rails on a bend near Camp Mountain in the Samford Ranges, approximately 20 km from Brisbane.

          Sixteen people were killed and 38 were injured as wooden carriages shattered after leaving the rails on a downhill stretch of the line.

          The train was specially chartered by the Commonwealth Department of Customs Recreation and Social Club for a picnic at Closeburn on the Dayboro branch and had left Central Station at 8.59am, two minutes late. Its total load was estimated at around 230 passengers on departure, many of them being children.

          Shortly before 9.50am, after slowing at Ferny Grove to accept a single-line tablet, the train crept over camp Mountain Knob and began a two mile descent towards Samford Station. It was during this steep descent of gradients ranging from 1 in 50 to 1 in 66 that, according to passengers who survived the crash, the train began to reach an alarming speed accompanied by a terrifying swaying and rocking.

          At approximately 18.3km, more than halfway down the grade, the train approached a sharp 120 metre radius bend and derailed with tragic consequences. The train’s locomotive, a C17 No 824, overturned on its right-hand side, firmly becoming embedded in the embankment.

          The engine’s tender swung up high to the right and overturned about 135 degrees. The right-hand leading edge of the tender ploughed along the cutting driving clay and stones into the engine’s cab. The engine driver, Clyde Hinds, was pinned in the right side of the cab, between the reversing sector and the cab panel. It would be several hours before he could be cut from the wreckage.

          Hinds’ fireman, Augustus Knight, was jammed between the left hand front corner of the tender and the boiler near the firebox hole door and was killed instantly.

          A six metre long water gin immediately behind the engine’s tender was wrenched free of the locomotive and was struck by the leading carriage of the train. The water tank of the unit telescoped back through the left hand side of the carriage sweeping all before it. It was found about midway and traversely to the left of the leading coach of the six carriage train.

          The underframe of the gin, however, ran forward on to both pairs of tender bogies, smashing the frame in two. The broken underframe, with bogies attached, and the leading and trailing bogies from the tender, travelled to the left of overturned engine No 824, coming to rest about three metres ahead of the engine.

          The leading carriage of the consist (No 740) was wrecked by the impact of the intruding water gin. Six fatalities probably came from this carriage although evidence was inconclusive. Part of the roof ended up on the engine cab. The remainder of the superstructure was “smashed to matchwood” to borrow the terms of the official Court of Inquiry into the disaster.

          Two leading compartments of the following carriage (No. 739) telescoped and were driven in under the tender. The leading end of this carriage was lifted completely off its bogie and was titled at an angle high up on the cutting on the right hand side. Five passengers in this carriage were killed instantly. Three others were trapped for up to six hours.

          The leading end of the third carriage (No. 742) was damaged and interlocked with the trailing end of the second coach. Its leading bogie was derailed but the trailing bogie stayed on the rails.

          Some indication of the telescoping effect of the front part of the train was revealed in the Court of Inquiry when it was stated that the locomotive, tender, water gin, and three leading carriages, had a combined length of just over 73 metres before the accident, but had been compressed into a space of 41 metres after it.

          Passengers in the trailing carriages continued undisturbed for a few seconds as the telescoping of the rolling stock was cushioned by the distance from the front of the train. In fact damage to the rear three carriages was so minimal that they were in a fit condition to be towed away from the accident scene immediately after the crash.

          First news of the disaster reached nearby Samford station by way of a passenger, Mr. Edward Hart, who clambered from carriage three to raise the alarm. The train’s guard, Mr. George Evans, was forcibly thrown across his van by the sudden halt of the train. He rushed to the Westinghouse brake air cock in his van, only to find that there was no air.

          Evans got out of his van, surveyed the scene from the left-hand side cutting and returned to the van to screw on the hand-brake. He rushed to the front of the train with the first aid box, left it with someone, then ran back to his van for the breakdown kit which he also took to the front of the train.

          The guard then returned to his van to obtain red flags and detonators, and ran back from the train 500 metres to stop the following special train. After speaking briefly to its crew, he also took steps to protect the front of the train.

          An emergency rescue team was quickly assembled at Samford and despatched to the accident scene in cars and trucks, the first call to ambulance headquarters being made at 10.08am, with one car being sent immediately. Within 70 minutes, 18 cars and 26 men were at the crash scene.

          Ambulances began to bring in some of the injured passengers at noon-two hours after the accident occurred.

          Driver Hind, who was in distress and remained virtually inaccessible for several hours, was instructed on how to self-administer a pain killing drug. Before then, however, a couple of witnesses were able to speak to him uninfluenced by medication and they recounted their conversations later to the Court of Inquiry.

          One of them, Patrick Frederick Campbell, knew both the driver and fireman of the train. Campbell pulled away some of the loose timber on the cab roof, recognised Hind, and asked him whether his pump had stopped, thus causing the accident. Hind had told him:

          “No. Nothing like that. I did not know the road. Neither did my mate.”

          Another witness, Ernest William Wood, told the inquiry Hind had told him: “My mate did not know the road.”

          These comments contrasted with a comment made by Hind in hospital to police in which he said: “I know I am in the clear alright (sic).”

          They also contrasted with the running arrangement for the day in which Hind-who was unfamiliar with the line- was being taught the road by Knight, who did.

          By 3.30pm, rescuers had cut a hole in the locomotive’s roof, freeing Hind who was rushed to hospital. Ten minutes later the bodies of three children were removed. Shortly after rescuers were able to access some badly injured adults and further adult bodies.

          Mrs. Emily McLean, who had been a passenger in the second carriage of the train and was trapped for seven hours, described to a Courier Mail newspaper reporter her recollection of events:

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

          “I seemed to be flying through the air and then everything went black. When I woke up there was a terrible pain in my legs and people around me were screaming. After a while, I heard people chopping at the wood above me.”

          Another passenger, Mr. J. O’Mara of Bulimba, confirmed many passengers’ recollections of excessive, frightening speed immediately before the derailment and he had warned other passengers to “hold on, here it comes,” seconds before the impact.

          Rescuers and breakdown gangs toiled throughout the afternoon and through the night to extract the injured and dead and repair the damaged trackwork, but it was not until 5pm the day after the tragedy that the line was cleared of all debris. Thirty minutes before, Clyde Hind had unexpectedly died in hospital from injuries he sustained in the accident. Hind’s death, took the final toll in the disaster to 16 dead and 38 injured.

          The Queensland Premier, Mr. Hanlon, announced a full and open inquiry into the tragedy. He also offered a State funeral for the 16 victims; however, the government settled for meeting all funeral expenses  when various relatives of the deceased declined the offer of a State funeral.

          A Court of Inquiry was established and was presided over by the Honourable A. J. Mansfield, Senior Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland, to determine the cause of the disaster which had claimed 16 lives. The inquiry sat for 14 days and examined 50 witnesses. On 1 July, Mr. Hanlon released the inquiry’s findings.

          It found that the overturning of the tender, due to excessive speed of the train, was the primary cause of the accident. It found that driver Hind, fireman Knight, and the train’s guard, George Essex Evans, were all guilty of breach of duty.

          The maximum speed on the Dayboro branch at the time of the accident was 40 km/h on straight stretches and 32 km/h on curves. The driver was estimated to have exceeded the speed limit by at least 24km(h) and was guilty of lack of care and breach of duty.

          The inquiry found that while Hind was unfamiliar with the Dayboro branch, that was not a contributing cause as he must have known he was exceeding the maximum speed limits.

          The inquiry said: “The only reason which could be discovered for excessive speed was that the train was late and the driver was endeavouring to make up time. He must have known that the permissible maximum speed was being exceeded, but he could not have realised that the excess of speed was in any way likely to endanger the train.”

          The inquiry found that Evans was also guilty of a breach of duty in failing to ensure that the train did not exceed the maximum permissible speed, in failing to apply the Westinghouse brake that would have drawn the driver’s attention to the excessive speed of the train and in failing to apply the brake in an emergency.

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Courier Mail: The 1947 Camp Mountain Rail Smash

 

Humphrey. 1 June 1918.

        One man was killed and two women were seriously injured following this collision between a cattle train and a mixed goods on 1 June 1981 at Humphrey station, 20.2km from Mundubbera.

          The mixed train, No. 11B, had left Mundubbera for Gayndah and Maryborough at 6.38am, eight minutes late. The driver of the mixed had been given instructions by the Mundubbera stationmaster, George Messer, to shunt at all stations to Gayndah.

          Behind the mixed, stationmaster George Messer had despatched a special train at 7.08am, also eight minutes behind schedule.

          The mixed arrived at Humphrey at 7.30am, picked up and deposited some goods and began some shunting. At about 7.40am, while stopped at Humphrey siding, the mixed train was hit from behind by the cattle train which suddenly emerged from the thick fog with only a whistle to herald its approach. The cattle train was estimated to be travelling at about 20 km/h.

          The collision crushed the guard’s van and telescoped a passenger carriage, fatally injuring one of its occupants, James J. Trigger, 66. Trigger had both legs and his arm practically severed in the crash. He was taken to Gayndah Hospital, but died soon after admission. Two women were also “seriously injured,” one of them, a Mrs. Sallisch, received a broken leg while another passenger, a Mrs. Howarth, suffered unspecified “internal injuries.”

          A breakdown train was despatched from Maryborough at 10.00am, but despite two carriages of the mixed train being extensively damaged, the cattle train was little affected, with the only reported damage being “a smashing of the cowcatcher and the head light.” The line between Gayndah and Humphrey was surprisingly clear for stock traffic by 11am.

          A magisterial inquiry into the incident was held later in the month at Gayndah and Maryborough before Police Magistrate James Bracewell. On 21 June, Messer told the inquiry that he calculated it would take the guard of the mixed train 50 minutes to do the work to Gayndah. He had despatched the cattle train with only a 30 minute gap between it and the preceding Mixed train, when the usual clearance between trains was one hour. Since the accident, the railways department had reverted to a one hour gap between trains.

          James Read, a lengthsman based in Humphrey, told the inquiry that the mixed train had reached Humphrey about 7.30am. The morning was very foggy with visibility down to between 50 and 75 metres. Read said that the mixed train was stopped at the station for about 10 to 15 minutes before the collision occurred.

          Read went on to say that he had heard the special train whistle and had grabbed a red flag and gone 75 metres when he met the train coming out of the fog. Although the driver of the special had immediately applied the brakes, Read said that the special did not appear to slow quickly, and the rails were very wet. Read said that to his knowledge, no fog signals were placed behind train 11B to provide protection.

          Alfred Spencer Howarth told the inquiry that he was a passenger on the mixed goods. He said that Trigger, a father of 11, had gone to the lavatory in the carriage shortly before the smash. Howarth said that on impact, the whole lavatory seemed to be driven on top of the next compartment. The deceased man’s son, James Edward Trigger, had been in the same carriage at the time of the smash. He said that the compartment. appeared to buckle up on impact.

          Arthur Thompson, the guard in charge of train 11B, told the inquiry that the rules regarding protecting his train in fog did not affect him as his train was running on time. He said, however, that it was the first time he had known of only a 30 minute interval between following trains.

          Thompson offered the opinion that the smash was due to the timetable of the special train being too close behind the mixed and the heavy fog. He said that there were 17 fog signal rules which applied to the department but the department had observed none of the rules on the day of the smash. Since the crash the department had moved to observe some of the rules by appointing for signalmen and increasing the interval between trains to one hour.

          Robert Stewart Murdoch, who was the driver of the No 1 Special cattle train on 1 June, said the first that he knew of reaching Humphrey was when he saw the goods shed and a truck, about 125 metres from the station.

          Murdoch had seen a lengthsman running towards his train in the fog with a red flag in his hand, and Murdoch had immediately slammed on his brakes. He said the train appeared to skid on the wet rails, so he had released the engine brake had had reversed the reversing lever. Murdoch also told the inquiry he was not scheduled to stop at Humphrey but had intended to do so anyway to check a big end bearing that had been hot earlier in the trip.

          John Edward Baker, guard on the special train, also voiced concern to the inquiry that the 30 minute separation between his train and the mixed seemed insufficient.

          At 6.15pm on 28 June, the inquiry was completed at Maryborough and Mr. Bracewell stated that the evidence would be forwarded to the Justice Department for its consideration.

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Marrawing, Queensland. 15 December 1944

          An engine driver died from a heart attack shortly after jumping for his life from the cab of his locomotive when two trains collided at Marrawing, 29km south of Gladstone, in this accident during the Second World War.

          The head-on collision, involving a goods train and a ballast train, occurred at 6.20am on the crest of a hill, 8km on the Gladstone side of Marrawing.

          The ballast train being hauled by a B18¼ class engine was travelling south with 19 wagons while the Beyer Garrett hauled goods, with a load of 527 tonnes gross, was travelling north.

          The two trains met with a combined impact velocity of between 80km/h and 100 km/h resulting in the Beyer Garrett being driven halfway into the boiler of the B18¼, which was lifted several feet off the rails. Moments before the impact, the crews of both locomotives had leapt from their cabs.

          Both engines were written off and the total cost of the damage was estimated at £100,000.

          The tender of the B18¼ telescoped into the engine’s cab with the following ballast trucks piling into one another. The first wagon on the goods train- which wagon contained furniture- was rammed halfway along the Beyer Garrett, the roof of the van ending up on top of the locomotive’s tender.

          Other wagons at the front end of the goods train were piled up against the weight of the ballast train, with several wagons in the middle of the train derailing and rolling down an embankment.

          The crew of the ballast train was Driver Daly, Fireman King, and their guard Mr. A. Coulsen. The crew of the goods train were Driver Stonely, Fireman Gibbs, and their guard, Mr. J. Tracey. All the men were from Gladstone.

          When guard Tracey reached the scene of the collision, he saw Stonely “staggering about,” and went to his aid; however, he then noticed Daly on the other side of the railway line clearly having difficulty breathing. Daly was given a drink of water, and Tracey turned his attention to assisting Gibbs out of some debris from the crash.

          Guard Coulson walked the 2.4km to Bernaby for help, while Tracey went to Marrawing. A Gladstone doctor, ambulance and police officer arrived shortly afterwards, but Daly was dead when they reached the accident scene.

          Breakdown gangs from Gladstone and Rockhampton were sent to the crash site with their first task being to construct a loop line around the accident by 10.00am on 16 December.

          The smash held up two divisions of the Townsville Mail and the Rockhampton Mail passenger trains, which left Brisbane on December 14, with all three trains being held at Bundaberg. Both Townsville divisions had reached Rosedale when news of the collision was heard. The Townsville trains were returned to Bundaberg due to lack of accommodation for passengers at Rosedale.

          The collision prevented the normal Rockhampton Mail leaving form Brisbane on the night of December 15, but a special train for Bundaberg left from Roma Street at 9.20pm.

          The Queensland Railway Commissioner, Mr. Wills, announced on 18 December that a departmental inquiry into the collision would be held. Expectant media representatives who turned up for the inquiry the next day were disappointed when the chief railways engineer, Mr. N. J. Amos, who was conducting the inquiry, announced that the Press would not be admitted, nor would any statement be made until the matter had been placed before Mr. Wills.  

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Wallumbilla, Queensland. 1 December 1956.

            Five passengers aboard a Mail train were killed and 10 others admitted to hospital when the Westlander crashed into the Western Mail  which was stationary at Wallumbilla, 467 km west of Brisbane.

          The accident occurred at 6.14am on Sat 1 December 1956 at the station where the two trains were intended to cross. Tragically, among those killed was 12 year old Roma High School student, Mary Sewell, and her grandmother, Rebecca Smith, aged 72. Mary’s mother, Mrs. Olive Sewell told the Courier Mail newspaper:

“I was standing by the window of the Western Mail looking out. I heard the Westlander whistle, then there was a terrific crash. I can’t seem to remember anything else until I woke up on Wallumbilla platform.”

          Another passenger injured in the collision, Lyal Grant, 22, recounted from hospital the events as he remembered them:

            “There was a smash and I felt myself crashing through a wall. A water tank feel on me and burst. Seats were flying everywhere. I tried to get clear of the wreckage and there was a burning sensation in my left leg. I knew it was broken. Somehow or other I finished up on a pile of wreckage with the other injured people trapped under me.”

          One of those seriously injured in the smash, Reginald Oehlmann, was rushed 306 km by ambulance to Toowoomba after being crushed from the waist down.

          A railway engineer would later give evidence before a board of inquiry that the 200 tonnes Western Mail had been rammed back 46 metres from the point of impact by the force of the 345 tonne Westlander. A five member departmental board of inquiry, open to the public and media, began hearing evidence at Roma on 4 December into the cause of the crash. The board was headed by the railway general manager, Mr. G. T. Foord.

          Separate from that inquiry, police conducted their own investigations into the smash, questioning “dozens of eyewitnesses.” The two crashed locomotives were still blocking the main line late on 2 December with breakdown gangs working all day to cut the two engines apart. Railway officials had hoped to clear the main line by noon on 3 December; however, heavy thunderstorms hampered their work and the main line was not reinstated until 4 December. A loop line around the crash site was used in the interim.

          The all-steel construction of the Westlander train was given as one of the reasons there had not been more fatalities in the accident. There were 150 passengers aboard the Westlander, and only slight injuries were received by a few of the passengers. At the departmental inquiry, the Wallumbilla Hospital matron, Alma May Reiken, told of meeting a man who introduced himself as “McDougall, the driver of the Westlander.”

          Reiken told the inquiry that [William George] McDougall had told her: “It’s all my fault. I was not well when I was at Yuleba [24km east of Wallumbilla] and should have got off the train there.”

          Also the inquiry heard evidence from the Roma district superintendent, Alfred Buchanan, who said that he had been told by the Wallumbilla stationmaster that both signals were at “danger,” when the Westlander passed through them. Buchanan also told the inquiry that he was aware that it was difficult for guards to observe signals from lookouts in vans of the type used on the Westlander on the day of the tragedy.

          Following the luncheon adjournment on 4 December, the board of inquiry travelled to Wallumbilla by special train to make a one hour inspection of the crash scene. It later took evidence in the town’s public hall from local witnesses. Local grazier and stock agent, David Bassingthwaighte, said he saw the Westlander approach the station faster than he had ever seen it do so before. There were no warning blasts on the whistle, and a signal was “straight out” against the Westlander, Bassingthwaighte said.

          On 5 December, the guard of the Western Mail, Aubrey Vincent Albert Connor, told the inquiry that following the crash, he had asked the driver of the Westlander, McDougall, whether the signal was off. McDougall had replied: “I don’t know.” Connor said that the guard of the Westlander, James Phillips, had told him that the signal was at danger when he saw it- and that he had pulled on the brakes when he realised that the train was not going to take the loop.

          Connor estimated that the Westlander’s speed was between 32 and 40 km/h.

          Bevin Ronald Scott, assistant maintenance engineer at Roma (40km east of Wallumbilla), told the inquiry that the signal levers at Wallumbilla were in the open and it would be possible for any person to pull them without the stationmaster’s knowledge. Wallumbilla’s stationmaster, Walter May, told the inquiry he had run to the engine hauling the Westlander immediately after the smash. May had said to its driver, McDougall:

        “Bill, what are you doing here? You have passed signals at the stop position.”

        May said that McDougall had replied: “Wal, I must have dozed off.” May had been amazed by that statement. [Later in the inquiry, English Electric Company engineer, William Young Wood, gave evidence that the cab of his company’s locomotives were “very comfortable” and that the occupants might have a tendency to “drop their heads.”]

          Queensland Railways’ South West Division general manager, William James McCormack said that when he had earlier been stationed at Roma, in a superintendent’s position, he had held McDougall in “very high esteem,” and he placed the guard, Phillips, in the same category.

          The board of inquiry subsequently found, by a majority decision, that the primary cause of the disaster was that Driver McDougall, while working the Up “Westlander,” on 1 December 1956, had passed the Up home signal at Wallumbilla in the “stop” position while the No. 19 Down mail train existed on the main line, and before McDougall had received the necessary caution hand signal at the loop points for his train to be admitted to the loop.

          The inquiry found that McDougall had failed to observe the obstruction ahead in sufficient time to avoid a collision. It also gave as contributing causes:

·                   the failure of guard “Phillips,” when working the Up “Westlander” on 1 December 1956, to take prompt action to have his train brought to a stand after the engine had passed the Up home signal in the “stop” position when it could be seen that his train was not being admitted to the loop by caution hand signal;

·                   the failure of Fireman Andrews, when working the “Up” Westlander on 1 December 1956, to pay immediate attention to and obey all signals at Wallumbilla and advise the driver of an obstruction (the No 19 Down mail) on the main line at the station. In a dissenting opinion, the two employee representatives on the board of inquiry, found that:

“…it is our considered opinion that this Railway Inquiry Board, as constituted under Section 127 of the Railways Acts, and functioning under the provisions of Section 143 of such Acts, has no power to find any person or persons guilty of any offence which has been either directly, or indirectly, the cause of, or has contributed to, the death of any person or persons, and any finding which in any manner convicts any person or persons of any offence, which may become the subject matter of a subsequent criminal charge is contrary to law, and a complete violation of the principals of justice.”

“Having regard to the aforementioned, we therefore find the Cause of Accident was due to train No 8S Up passing the Up home signal in the “Stop” position, although there is no evidence to suggest any hand signal was exhibited to admit 8S Up into Wallumbilla either to the platform or the loop.”

“Regarding the circumstances surrounding the accident, we are satisfied that something abnormal occurred in the cab of diesel electric locomotive No 1200 just prior to 8S arriving at Wallumbilla.”  

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Courier Mail : Wallumbilla

Beerburrum Queensland. 28 July 1994

            At about 8.06pm on 28 July 1994, Queensland Rail electrically hauled freight trains C531 (northbound from Moolabin to Townsville) and C740 (southbound from Townsville to Acacia Ridge) collided head on at the 63km point on the North Coast line on the single section between Beerburrum and Elimbah, about 1km south of Beerburrum.

          The two drivers, who were the only crew, were injured as a result of the collision and were hospitalized for a period. Extensive damage was caused to the locomotives, other rolling stock and other infrastructure. The train locomotive of C740, 3902, was scrapped. The locomotive on C351, 3901, was less badly damaged and was returned to service.

          The North Coast line was blocked for 22 hours. After the line was opened, signaling rectification works continued for a further 6 hours.

          The inquiry into the accident established that all technical equipment including the Automatic Train Control (ATC) system operated substantially as designed and that the incident was caused by the driver of train C740 passing signal BM18 which was displaying a stop aspect.  

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Hatfield, Black Mountain, Queensland 17 November 1994

            About 3am on 17 November 1994, a 1.5km long electrically hauled freight train, No EV 72, carrying 7600 tonnes of coal from the Blair Athol mine, derailed 92 of its 108 carriages (each valued at $100,000), as it descended Black Mountain about 40km from Mackay. Three of the four electric locomotives, valued at $3 million, also left the tracks and two of these were compressed. However, the lead locomotive stayed on the tracks and thus the driver and his assistant were uninjured.

          The locomotives involved were 3164 (lead), 3279, 3267, 3282, and ELRC 103, the locotrol unit. 3164 suffered damage to the rear coupler, pantograph and other high voltage equipment but was returned to service. However, 3279 had extensive cab and body damage and was not returned to service, while 3267, 3282, and the locotrol unit were all beyond repair. It took 6 days to clear and restore the track.  

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From "Great Australian Railway Disasters"

 

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