The South Brisbane Rail Smash







Courier Mail Monday 24 June 1957

100 Hurt as Express Train Crashes through Station

No Brakes

        The crack Brisbane Limited, its brakes useless, ploughed into South Brisbane interstate terminal at more than 20 mph yesterday (Sunday 23 June 1957), injuring at least 100 people.

        Nine ambulances worked a 70 minute shuttle service to take 55 of the injured to four hospitals. Last night, 17 had been admitted and four were in a serious condition.

        The two leading all steel carriages of the 10 unit train telescoped as the 110 ton New South Wales 42 Class diesel electric locomotive number 4202 buried its nose in the concrete apron at 11.48am. Only 21 feet separated the train from Melbourne Street, 40 feet below.

Buffer fell into street

        The impact tore off and catapulted part of a steel buffer into Melbourne Street below.

        Doctors, ambulances, police, and railway rescue teams were at the scene within minutes of the smash.

        The drama began a mile from South Brisbane’s station when the train’s braking system failed.

        Frantic efforts by the crew reduced the train’s speed from 40 to 20 mph, before it smashed with sirens screaming into the big steel and concrete terminal buffers.

        The impact flung passengers from their seats and sent others crashing into carriage windows.

        Glass from smashed windows was showered along almost the length of the platform as the train stopped in a swirling cloud of dust.

        Ambulances, with sirens screaming, reached the scene within seven minutes. One was diverted from Redcliffe, and others were ordered to stand by.

        At Brisbane General, South Brisbane Auxiliary, and Mater Hospitals, extra casualty ward staffs were hastily organised to receive the victims.

        All available police were rushed to the station.

        For 40 minutes after the smash the scene resembled a wartime emergency clearing station.

        The injured lay on seats and pieces of baggage as doctors and ambulance bearers attended to them.

The seriously injured were quickly treated and hurried into waiting ambulances.

Dozens of others, dazed and shocked, quietly waited their turn for first aid.

A pretty brunette held the hand of a young airman who lay semi-conscious on a stretcher.

A doctor crawled through the window of one of the smashed carriages to treat a railways waitress scaled by boiling water.

A little boy, no more than four, was cut on the face and head by flying glass.

He sat without tears as an ambulance man worked to stop the bleeding.

A group of sailors starting leave from Melbourne gathered around one of their mates whose face had been badly cut.

Among the early rescuers were a group of young Salvation Army girls who sorted out and comforted the children.

White smocked young doctors from the General Hospital worked on the more serious cases.

A giant crane railed from Casino, 137 miles away, arrived at South Brisbane at 6.45pm to lift the wrecked leading carriage and locomotive back on to the rails.

The Queensland Railways Department Secretary (Mr. J. L. E. Lingard) said last night an early inquiry would be held by the New South Wales Railways Department.

Mr. Lingard arrived soon after the smash to gather information first hand.

Warned by taxi radio

First warning of the South Brisbane rail smash was flashed by radio five seconds before it happened.

Ascot taxi driver, Mr. Jim Kenyon, had parked outside the station a few minutes before the train’s arrival.

He said: :I heard the warning three blasts of the siren. I knew it meant trouble because I worked in the railways for years. I automatically called base on the radio telephone and told them to warn the ambulance. They got the message a few seconds before I heard the smash.”

“No way in the world it could stop” Eyewitness’ Description

Army Sergeant Roy Wilson, on duty at the station, described the lasts seconds as the Brisbane Limited plunged towards the terminal buffers.

He said: “I was standing near the R.T.O. office and first saw the train 200 yards away. The siren was blasting continuously. The driver was leaning from the cabin and waving his arms frantically. The train was travelling between 25 and 30 miles an hour and I knew that there was no way in the world it could stop in time. The next thing there was a terrific grinding crash. When this died down, we could hear the cries and screams of the injured. People on the station seemed stunned for a few seconds. Then passengers started to stagger from the carriages and rescuers went to work.”

Driver tells of last minutes into station: Horror Ride

“The air brakes failed a mile out of the station: I thought we were done for,” the train’s driver, Michael Henry Keane, said after the smash.

“But I got down to 20 miles an hour from 40 and the buffers saved us.”

Keane, with his observer John Desmond Pacey, 38, took over the Limited at 6.25am yesterday at Grafton.

Keane lives at Ipswich Road, Moorooka, and Pacey at Nicholson Avenue, Salisbury.

“Everything went smoothly and we were running on time. Then at the mile peg out of the station, the air brakes failed,” Keane said.

“I started to sound the horn to warn up ahead and to tell the guard and conductors to put on their emergency brakes.”

Keane said Pacey went back of the loco to apply the emergency brake there, but it had no effect.

After that, it was a ride of horror, the 500 ton train hurtling towards the Melbourne Street parapet.

Keane was shouting repeated warnings above the strident blasts of the klaxon and waving his arms, while at the time trying vainly to work the loco’s gears into reverse.

When the crash came, he was flung forward on to the controls. He received head injuries and refused medical attention until he had examined the engine.

Loco back on rails

The smashed locomotive New South Wales 42 Class Mainline Diesel Electric 4202 was re-railed and shunted to a siding at South Brisbane Station just before midnight.

New South Wales Railways officials said engineers would make a thorough inspection of the locomotive.

They said that the cause of the smash would be treated as “unknown” until an inspection was made and an inquiry held.

The train carried 260 passengers and crew.

Top speed of the type of diesel locomotive hauling the train is 75 mph.

Praise for Ambulance

Police and railway officials last night praised the work of the Brisbane Ambulance Transport Brigade at the South Brisbane rail smash.

In 70 minutes nine ambulances treated and carried 48 of the smash victims to three Brisbane hospitals.

Other bearers treated scores of injured at the scene.

The first ambulances reached the smash in seven minutes.

Six were sent from headquarters in Ann Street, two from Moorooka, and another was diverted from Redcliffe.

The brigade superintendent (Mr. T. Beech) personally supervised work at the smash scene.

Victims’ graphic stories

Victims told graphic stories after yesterday’s express smash at South Brisbane station.

A young naval rating, Ordinary Seaman Wieslah Wlodarezyh, of Toowoomba, said he was standing in the corridor of the first carriage, when the train crashed into the buffers.

He said: There were about six of us standing together and we had no idea that the train was going to stop this way. We all tumbled over and I finished cushioned between about three bodies.”

“One man was trapped beneath a broken seat. We pulled him out through the window.”

Corporal Ray Purton of Tasmania, on transit to Canungra Army Camp described the scene in the second carriage:

“We were tossed about like nine pins. You could hear groaning and screaming coming from the other compartments. People started to crawl out of windows. Then they crawled back again to help the injured.”

All So Quick

Miss Majorie Williams, of Ilford, Essex, England, who is touring Australia, was on the train on her way north to Cairns. She was in the third carriage.

“There was just a cloud of dust and a terrific noise. O knew something terrible had happened, bit it was all so quick. There was no panic,” she said.

Loud Crash

Mrs. D. Brown, of Sydney, on her way to stay at Oxlade Court, Coronation Drive, said:

“The train seemed to pelt along for miles. I thought that we were late or something the way it was going. I was in the rear car. Then there was a loud crash, and people seemed to be flying everywhere.”

Dazed and waiting to go to hospital for treatment for an injured elbow, Mr. V. A. Talpin, of Pritchard Avenue, Auburn, New South Wales, said:

“I couldn’t believe it. We were preparing to get out. Then everything went haywire. But the people around me were very calm.”

Face Slashed

One woman was thrown to the floor and knocked unconscious.

In the front of the train, R.A.A.F. apprentice, P. E. Bates, of Bundaberg, was combing his hair at a mirror in the doorway in the second carriage.

The crash sent his head through the mirror, deeply gashing his face.

Buffet car attendant, Pearl Blake, 19, of Casino, was scalded when the force of the impact upset two electric urns and sent boiling water cascading down on to her.

She said: “I was washing up in the kitchen section four cars back from the engine.”

“There was a terrific grinding crash and I was knocked to the floor.”

“The big heavy refrigerator toppled over and dumped down about two inches from my head.”
        “Then I don’t know whether the urns blew up or tipped over., but boiling water came bursting down on top of me.”

A doctor scrambled into the buffet car kitchen through a window and treated Miss Blake for scalds to her right shoulder and neck.

Broken Glass Sprayed Shocked Crowd when Train Hit

A big crowd of people waiting at the interstate station to meet passengers on the Brisbane Limited train screamed in horror as it crashed into the terminal buffers at 11.48am yesterday. Smashed glass fragments flew in the faces of passengers and those waiting to welcome them.

Police had to hold back swarms of sightseers who attempted to crowd on to the station. The rush of people pressing on to the platform at one stage held up bearers trying to take stretcher cases to ambulances. Squads of police and railwaymen barred all entrances to the station, but some people gained entry through the goods yard.

Later, faces swathed in bandages, sleeping car passengers said that bunks had broken loose, falling on people on seats beneath when the crash happened. A PMG employee who was waiting at the station to take delivery of the mails, said: “The driver was blasting his horn continuously. You could see that the train was in distress. The driver was waving his hands, and calling out to people to get off the platform. He did a fine job. It was obvious that he wanted people to clear the platform in case the train jumped the rails and ploughed into the waiting crowd. The driver at the time seemed to be fighting with the controls in a last minute effort to stop the train.”

Breakdown crews were still working under floodlights late last night to clear the rails. A heavy crane was sent from casino 137 miles away, to lift the locomotive and leading car, the only units derailed, back on to the rails. Enough of the platform was cleared to allow the 4.20pm Sydney Mail train to depart on time.

Braking Systems

The Brisbane Limited has two braking systems.

The main braking system of the Brisbane Limited which crashed into the interstate station yesterday is a series of Westinghouse air brakes. The brake power comes from the locomotive where pumps created the needed pressure. Interconnected air lines run to the brakes on all bogies.

        A main brake control is on the driver’s operating console. Another emergency brake is at the rear of the loco. The train also has an emergency friction braking system. This operates by brake wheels installed inside each carriage and the guard’s van. The brake wheels are more than a foot across in diameter, and are located near the doorways. The brakes grip when the wheel is turned. When the driver of yesterday’s smash train found that his brakes had failed, his observer John Desmond Pacey, dashed to the rear of the locomotive to apply an emergency brake there, but it had no effect.

Jumped Out. Aided Driver

        First man on the scene to aid the train driver after yesterday’s Brisbane Limited smash was an Air Force Sergeant from the second carriage. He jumped off the still moving train, ran to the end of the platform, and climbed into the cabin.

        He is Sergeant R. C. Harrington, of Rome Street, Yeronga, who said he found the driver, Michael Keane, slumped on his seat still clutching the hand brake. Keane was saying over and over: “No air brakes; no air brakes; no air brakes.”

        Keane was in a shocked state and his face was covered in blood.


Courier Mail 16 July 1957

Board Findings

        The driver of the interstate train which crashed into the South Brisbane station terminal on 23 June 1957 “lost control of his train” and then was “in a state of mental panic,” a departmental inquiry board has found.

        The board also found that there was no defect in the diesel electric locomotive or the Westinghouse brake equipment on the train.

        The board report was released yesterday by the Queensland Transport Minister (Mr. Moores).

        More than 100 people were injured and 16 admitted to hospital when the interstate train crashed into safety barriers at South Brisbane. The inquiry board, consisting of four New South Wales Railway Department officers and 2 Queensland Railway Department officers, met for four days in Brisbane behind closed doors.

        The train driver was Michael Keane of Ipswich Road, Moorooka.

        The New South Wales Railway Commissioner (Mr. N. McAisker) said last night that action against Keane was being considered. He said that Keane had not driven a train since the accident.

        The New South Wales Railways Department operates the interstate railway line through Kyogle to South Brisbane under an agreement with the Queensland Government.

Findings of the Board

        The findings of the board were:

“The driver, having wrongly assumed that the dynamic brake had failed and the engine had shut down, pushed in the emergency stop button on the throttle handle. This had reduced the effectiveness of the dynamic brake and he failed to make the best use of the Westinghouse air brake to keep his train under proper control.

        [Railway officials said last night that the “dynamic brake” was an electrically operated brake. To “shut down” an engine was to stop or stall it].

        “The driver lost control of his train prior to entering the South Brisbane platform and was then in a state of mental panic. The guard and attendant failed to realise in sufficient time that an emergency condition existed and consequently the emergency application was made too late to be effective.”


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