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Granville rail disaster

The Granville rail disaster occurred on 18 January 1977 at Granville, a suburb west of Sydney, the state capital of New South Wales, Australia, when a crowded commuter train traveling to Sydney derailed, running into the supports of a road bridge which came down onto two of its passenger carriages.

It is the most severe railway disaster in Australia with 83 fatalities.

The crash

The crowded 6:09 am Sydney-bound commuter train from Mount Victoria, in the Blue Mountains, was approaching Granville railway station when it left the rails at approximately 8:10 am and hit a row of supports of the overhead Bold Street bridge, constructed from steel and concrete.

The derailed engine and first two carriages passed the bridge; the first carriage broke free from the other carriages, but was torn open by the bridge supports. The remaining carriages ground to a halt, with the second carriage clear of the bridge. The rear half of the third carriage, and forward half of the fourth carriage came to rest under the weakened, vulnerable bridge. After a matter of seconds, with all its supports demolished, the bridge and several motor cars on top of it crashed down onto carriages, crushing them and the passengers inside.

In all, 83 people died,more than 210 were badly injured and 1,300 were affected.

The passengers killed were in the first, third and fourth carriages. Many of those who died were killed instantly when the bridge crushed them in their seats; some of the survivors in the crushed carriages saw those killed one seat ahead. The train driver, second man, and the motorists driving on the bridge all survived. There were a number of people trapped in the train for hours after the accident by part of the bridge crushing a limb or torso; many of these people were conscious and lucid, talking to rescuers, but died of crush syndrome soon after the crushing weight was removed from their bodies due to the sudden release of muscle myoglobins having built up in the limb, causing renal failure. This resulted in changes to rescue procedures for these kinds of accidents.

Aftermath

The bridge was rebuilt as a single span without any intermediate support piers. Other bridges similar to the destroyed bridge had their piers reinforced.

The inquiry into the accident found that the primary cause of the crash was "the very unsatisfactory condition of the permanent way", being the poor fastening of the track, causing the track to spread and allowing the left front wheel of the locomotive to come off the rail. How this happened was related to the high turnover of staff combined with a lack of standard procedures for track inspections. The posted limit for the track was not shown to be too high, provided appropriate track inspection and maintenance was occurring.

The disaster triggered substantial increases in rail maintenance expenditure.

Memorial Trust

The Granville Memorial Trust was established in the wake of the accident to commemorate the victims and campaign for improvements to rail safety.

The Trust organizes an annual memorial service on the anniversary of the crash. Families and friends of the victims gather with surviving members of the rescue crews in a march through Granville to the Bold Street bridge where the accident occurred. The ceremony ends with the throwing of 83 roses on to the tracks to mark the number of passengers killed. In 2007, a plaque was placed atop the bridge to mark the efforts of railway workers who assisted in rescuing survivors from the train.

Trust members also make submissions on rail safety issues, including recommending that fines for safety breaches be dedicated to rail safety improvements, and campaigning for the establishment of an independent railway safety ombudsman.

Telemovie

An Australian telemovie made in 1998, The Day of the Roses, follows the coronial investigation. Before his death from bowel cancer in 1996, Coroner Tom Weir was assisted Beyond Television Productions, but he didn’t not live to see the telemovie. The telemovie focussed on several victims, people who assisted victims, and the ongoing annual dropping of roses ceremony from the bridge site.

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