Description of the Accident
On Tuesday 18 January 1977, passenger train No.108, operated by the Public Transport Commission of New South Wales departed Mt Victoria, in the Blue Mountains 126 kilometres west of Sydney, as scheduled at 6.09am being due to arrive in Sydney at 8.32am. The train comprised eight carriages hauled by an electric locomotive, No. 4620, with a driver and an engineman his observer, and the only other crew member a guard in the guard's compartment in the rear of the train. The train reached Parramatta without untoward incident and departed there at 8.10am with at least 469 passengers.
The normal schedule for this service provided for a non-stop run from Parramatta to Strathfield and signals were cleared for Granville, 2 kilometres east of Parramatta, for a run through Granville Station on the up western line. As the train was moving around a left hand curve travelling east and about 150 feet west of an overbridge known as the Bold Street Bridge the locomotive travelling at a speed of 78 kilometres per hour became derailed and in turn caused the derailment of the leading and second carriages, Nos 1 and 2.
The locomotive proceeded in an uncontrolled and uncontrollable condition when it collided with one of two sets of trestles supporting the upper decking of the Bold Street Bridge. It careered on from there, demolishing all eight steel stanchions of that trestle and finally came to rest on its right sided 220 feet east of the bridge, having torn up the adjoining track. In doing so, it probably struck the foundation and lower portion of a steel electric power line mast, shearing this off at the base. Carriage 1 collided with the power mast which was apparently suspended from the overhead power lines. This mast ploughed through the carriage, demolishing the superstructure, and the carriage finally came to rest partly on its side, with the detached roof on the adjacent tracks and the walls demolished almost to floor level. Of the 73 passengers in this carriage, eight lost their lives and 34 were injured. The driver and fireman in the locomotive, although badly shaken, were not seriously injured. Carriage 2 passed to the north or left hand side of carriage 1, tilted to its left and came to a halt hard up against the retaining wall of the northern abutment, clear of the bridge on the eastern side. Although there were some injuries none of the 64 passengers in this carriage were seriously hurt.
The balance of the train remained on the rails and came to a stand with the rear and leading ends of carriage 3 and 4 respectively under the bridge. Unfortunately the trestles supporting the bridge gave way with approximately 250 tonnes of the northern span and approximately 320 tonnes of the central span of the bridge falling onto portions of carriages 3 and 4. The roofs of the carriages were crushed in, the sides were burst outwards and the height of the carriages from floor level reduced, in some cases, to inches. The result was catastrophic. Of the 77 passengers in carriage 3, 44 lost their lives, and of the 64 passengers in carriage 4, 31 suffered the same fate. In all, 83 passengers were killed or died of injuries and 213 were injured, 31 of these being admitted to hospital.
In the seconds after the derailment and before the bridge collapsed alert signalmen in the signal box west of the bridge had switched some 13 signals into the "stop" position and had sounded the alarm, setting in motion the rescue operation. Police units, particularly the Police Rescue Squad, the Fire Bridge, Ambulance services, emergency medical teams from nearby hospitals, railway workers and other voluntary workers all worked at the task of recovering those injuried in carriages 3 and 4 under the huge concrete slab. Department of Main Roads personnel began cutting up the slab, assisted by the expert drivers of huge cranes. The rescuers worked continuously for up to 22 hours, often under the spray of hoses, as there was a danger of igniting escaping low pressure gas from cylinders in the carriages, part of the train heating system. Throughout the rescue operation there was a real danger that the rest of the bridge would collapse onto the track and those working there. The last injured pasenger was removed about ten hours after the accident. He, unfortunately, did not survive. It was not until 3.20pm the following day that the last body was removed from the wreckage. (1)
On 21 January 1977 the Governor ordered His Honour Judge J H Staunton, QC, Chief Judge of the District Court, to conduct a formal investigation into the accident which took place on 18 January 1977, on or about the Up Main Western Railway line at Granville in the course of the working of the railway. This authority was given under the Government Railways Act, 1912. (4) Judge Staunton was assisted by R J Pascoe Esq., FCIT, Commissioner of Railways, Western Australian Government Railway and J B Laurie Esq., BE, FIE Aust., Managing Director, Maunsell and Partners Pty Ltd, Melbourne. (2)
Advertisements were published in newspapers giving public notice of the investigation. A preliminary public sitting of the Court was held on 26 January. On 21 February the Court reconvened and held public sittings until 3 May. 75 witnesses were called and examined and over 350 documents, photographs and articles were received into evidence. (3) Evidence was considered on: management of the train; the curve of the rail line; the condition of No. 73 lead; inspection and maintenance; rolling stock (carriages and locomotive); derailment sequence; and, the Bridge. (4)
The first cause of the accident was found to be the derailment caused by the very unsatisfactory condition of the permanent way in the lead of No. 73 points on the up main western line. The second cause was found to be the bridge collapse. The bridge was not designed to stand on only one set of trestles and its collapse was caused simply by the removal by the locomotive after derailment of the northern set of trestles. (5) Observations were also made on a number of matters including on actions taken by the Public Transport Commission following the accident, the bridge and the task of recovering the survivors.
The report of the formal investigation was presented to Parliament on 11 May 1977. (6)
(1) Report on the Formal Investigation of an Accident on or about the Up Main Western Railway Line at Granville on 18th January, 1977, (Report), pp.8-9 in NSW Parliamentary Papers (NSW PP), 1976-77-78. Vol.10, pp.1106-1107.
(2) Report, pp.3, 7; NSW PP, pp.1101, 1105.
(3) Report, p.7; NSW PP, p.1106.
(4) Report, pp.10-20; NSW PP, pp.1108-1118.
(5) Report, p.20; NSW PP, p.1118.
(6) Report, p.22; NSW PP, p.1120.