Berowra railway accident, 16th May 1952
Major Railway Accidents
Locomotive No. 1, Sydney's first railway locomotive, built in 1855 by Robert Stephenson with three others for the first real railway line in New South Wales, was involved in two fatal accidents. The first occurred as a derailment on 10th July 1858. The locomotive was pulling two open third-class carriages, a first- and a second-class carriage between Sydney and Parramatta. Near Homebush, the two third-class compartments left the rails and toppled down an embankment. There were thirty people in the two carriages, of whom two were killed, one a solicitor, the other a market gardener.
In the ensuing investigation, reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, it was suggested that the problem was caused by damage to the hollow-cast rails which were not able to withstand the weight of the locomotive. Rail workers, some of whom witnessed the derailment, claimed that the problem was caused, at least in part, by the practice of loose-coupling the lightweight third-class carriages in the same way as heavy goods trucks. The matter also drew to the attention of the managers the fact that the price of first class travel, at four shillings, was so exorbitant that even the wealthiest citizens of Sydney chose to travel in the open carriages.
On 6th January 1868 a man was killed when Locomotive No. 1 collided with a passenger train at Newtown Station. The locomotive was severely damaged and retired. It is now on display at the Powerhouse Museum. Newtown Station was at that time located west of the present station, its platform eventually forming part of the foundation of Crago's Flour Mill.
A little after ten o'clock on the evening of Wednesday, 30th January 1878, the stationmaster at Penrith received a message from Blue Mountains (now Lawson) that a Special goods train carrying coal and shale had just passed and would wait at Wascoe's Siding. Confident of this information, he gave the all-clear to the waiting No. 16 west-bound goods train which steamed slowly out of Penrith, across the Nepean, and on to Emu Plains. As the twenty-two wagon train approached the steep climb into the Blue Mountains, its engine's throttle wide open, the driver was astonished to see, some distance ahead, a light moving on the line. Almost as soon as he gave a blast on the whistle both he and his fireman realised with horror that the Sydney-bound goods he expected to 'cross' at Wascoe's Siding had, in fact, gambled on a clear line to Emu Plains and was now hurtling down the final section of Lapstone Hill. Whistles blew and brakes screamed but the impending collision was inevitable.
The front engines and most carriages from both trains rolled down a 2 metre high embankment. The load of coal and shale was showered by sparks and burst into flames, turning the accident scene into an inferno. The driver and assistant guard of the eastbound train and the fireman of the westbound train were killed. An engine coupled to the back of No. 16 to help the train climb the Blue Mountains escaped damage and the driver uncoupled the locomotive and returned to Penrith to bring help.
The cause of the accident was put down to a guard's watch bring around 25 minutes slow, leading to a miscalculation of the place where the two trains would meet. The down train, which should have stopped at Wascoe's Siding, kept going as its driver believed he had plent of time to make Penrith before No. 16 was scheduled to leave, not realising that the guard's watch was slow and the train had already left Penrith.
On Boxing Day, Friday 26th December 1879, a packed express passenger train left Windsor for Sydney with a load of passengers returning home from a day at the races. As the train was a Sydney-only express that had been put on especially to move the large volume of travellers going to the races, the driver decided not to stop at Parramatta. Having the Railways Department Traffic Inspector on board, he decided to show the Inspector what speed his locomotive could do. Meanwhile, a crowed train stood in Parramatta station that was not due out until 5.40pm. Under normal conditions, the Windsor train would have arrived well after the 5.40pm train had left as it was normally an all-stations service, but as the 5.40pm train was getting ready to pull away, the Windsor train came into view travelling at full speed on the same line. Inspector Richardson saw the train coming and shouted for everyone to jump for their lives. Despite the driver's efforts, the Windsor train was unable to stop and ploughed into the rear of the stationery train. Thanks to the warning given by Richardson, no one died and only 20 people were injured.
A goods train was derailed on 11th September 1884 as a result of a collision between locomotives 65 and 83.
On 21st June 1887, Sydney had a public holiday to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. A popular day out was to travel up the Northern Railway line to Peats Ferry (modern day Brooklyn) to view construction of the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge beyond Peats Ferry station, which at the time was the end of the line. At 10.29am an 8 carriage train loaded with picnickers left Sydney station. Being a very busy public holiday, the regular train drivers on that route where otherwise engaged so a new driver who was unfamiliar with that line was rostered on as its driver.
After crossing the Parramatta River, the driver found the load too much of a strain to climb the Meadowbank hill so he took half the carriages on to Hornsby then came back for the rest.
Upon leaving Hornsby, he attempted to make up lost time, but did not realise until too late that there was a 1 in 40 grade going down to the Hawkesbury River. The train got away from him and as it was about to crash into another fully loaded train standing in the Peats Ferry platform, a quick thinking pointsman named Proctor switched a set of points, sending the train into a siding containing empty trucks. The train struck the trucks, the engine rolled over an embankment and went into the river.
Though the driver and five passengers died and 73 were injured, Mr Proctor had averted a much greater disaster had the two trains full of passengers collided head on at the crowded station. At the inquest, the Coroner found the Railways Department were guilty of neglect by placing an inperienced driver in charge of an underpowered train.
On Wednesday 7th November, 1894, a train had left Parramatta and was scheduled to arrive at the Redern terminal at 9.31am. Standing at No. 6 platform was the 9.30am Redfern to Goulburn train being hauled by a new heavy Beyer and Peacock locomotive, awaiting clearance. The signalman was waiting for the Parramatta train to arrive before giving it the go-ahead. Anxious to get moving, the driver of the Goulburn train gave an impatient whistle. Thinking it was another train waiting in platform No. 5 that was leaving, the signalman gave him the go-ahead. The Goulburn train's driver moved off without looking and rammed the train in No. 5 platform which was itself still awaiting clearance, forcing the lighter tanker engine into the first carriage. Some passengers died, many were trapped and suffered terrible burns.
A derailment killed seven people at Sydneyham on 15th February 1901.
Zig Zag railway accident, 1901. Photo: Sydney Morning Herald
On 8th December 1901, a train accident at Top Points on the Zig Zag line in the Blue Mountains did not end in tragedy because the first yard at Top Points did not end in a solid wall as they were originallu intended to, only a sheer drop. In that year a train coming down the Zig Zag lost control of its brakes, crashed through the wooden bufferstop, and stopped half suspended over the cliff edge. The driver and fireman were uninjured - when they realised that the train could not stop, they had jumped out. The day after the accident the train was pulled back on the track, and allowed to continue on its way, remaining in service until the mid 1950s.
The only fatal accident on the Zig Zag occured on the night of 8th December 1908 when an overloaded goods train stopped short of Clarence Tunnel, unable to lift its haul to the top. On dividing the train, the rear portion rolled to Top Points where it demolished the cab of a locomotive on a train about to leave for Penrith. Sadly, the driver died in Penrith hospital. The runaway brake van had some 20 navvies as passengers, miraculously none were injured. Fire in the wreckage and a snow storm added to the chaos and confusion.
Five people were killed when a train was shunted into a standing locomotive at Hurstville on 30th August 1920.
On 10th November, 1924, the 6.37 am steam tram service from Cronulla lost control when hurtling down the Miranda hill at excessive speed, whilst trying to make up time. Steam motor No. 88A consequently derailed and overturned killing the driver Sam Wyatt instantly. The first carriage No. 144B also completely derailed, and the second carriage No. 180B partially derailed. Only the last carriage remained on the rails. Fortunately, only one death resulted but there were many injuries. A small 0-4-0 Horthorne Leslie workshop crane No. 1067, with a truck full of re-railing gear and a brakevan was sent to the scene immediately to lift the steam motor onto the rails again. However, when this was attempted it nearly toppled over and was therefore useless.
Level crossing accidents occurred all too frequently on the Richmond line and the Kurrajong extension was not immune from these seemingly inevitable collisions. A fatal level crossing accident occurred at North Richmond on 25th July 1938. The driver and passenger travelling in a truck down Bell's Line of Road towards Richmond saw the Kurrajong-bound passenger train, made up of the usual 20 class locomotive and two passenger cars approaching the level crossing which was protected by "Stop, Look and Listen" signs. The truck driver realised that it was too late to stop and intended to cross the line in front of the train. However, his passenger, in a panic, applied the hand-brake, causing the truck to skid to a halt right on the crossing. The passenger, Victor Henry Sullivan, was killed in the collision but the driver survived.
Seventeen people died when a mail train collided with a bus on a level crossing at Brooklyn on 20th January, 1944. Most of the dead were bus passengers.
The leading carriage of an electric train which was hurled over an embankment after it had been derailed with three carriages by a seven inch bolt on the line, near Merrylands station on 25th January 1945. The bolt, which was old and rusty, was seven inches in length, with a hexagonal head. It was placed lengthwise on the rail 300 metres from the station. Over the 300 or so people on the train which was travelling from Liverpool to Sydney, 13 people were injured in the accident.
On the morning of 7th May, 1952, a train from Bankstown running to the city ploughed into the rear of a Liverpool train standing at Berala station, killing ten passengers and injuring 84.
Rescue operation at Berowra (1952). Photos: NSW Railway Records-SRO NSW
A driver and fireman escaped injury on 16th May 1952 when their locomotive plunged over an embankment between Kuring-gai and Cowan stations, on the main northern line north Sydney. The fireman jumped clear but the driver stayed with the engine .The trucks following were smashed and tossed in all directions and hundreds of tons of coal was scattered about. The mishap occurred about 11.30pm. It was the fifth train accident in and near Sydney in eight days.
Five people died and 748 were injured when two passenger trains collided at Sydneyham on 19th December 1953.
On Sunday, 31st October 1965, a rail accident occurred when a fast goods train from Goulburn ploughed into a stationary passenger train near the viaduct just south of Liverpool station. One eyewitness said that the second carriage was pushed into the first and the rear carriage was forced on top of another. The first official statement said that the train had not been carrying many passengers: the final count was one fatality and four injured.
Three people were killed when a driver ran through signals resulting in a rear-end collision at outer suburban Heathcote.
Granville Rail Disaster
At 8:10 on the morning of 18th January 1977, eighty-three people died in Australia's worst rail disaster when a 300 tonne section of the Bold Street bridge, Granville, collapsed onto the 6:10 from Mt. Victoria as a result of one of the pylons being struck by the locomotive. The engine had derailed on a curve approaching the bridge. Incredibly, about 200 people escaped injury.
On Friday 19th March 1982 two single deck suburban trains travelling in opposite directions on the Western Line suffered extensive damage when one car derailed and speared into the side of the other train causing several cars of both trains to derail.
Six people died when an Intercity express train crashed into the vintage tourist steam train 3801 on 6th May 1990. The steam train, which was returning fro a day trip to the Hunter Valley, has encountered difficulty climbing Cown Bank late afternoon and was about to proceed when the Intercity train came up the line, believing it to be clear, and ran into the back of the tourist train.
Two empty trains collided at Waterfall station on 20th December, 1994. One train, which was stationery alongside a platform, was pushed off the tracks, destroying both the train and various buildings and passenger walkways on and around the platform.
An empty eight-car Tangara train derailed at Concord West on 9th June, 1998. The driver was seriously injured, the guard received slight injuries.
An enginemen died when a locomotive struck a partially collapsed road overbridge at Robertson on 19th May 1998. The train was a National Rail Brisbane to Whyalla Steel Train. At 05:30 in the pouring rain and heavy fog, the abutments of a recently replaced road overbridge collapsed onto the tracks. The leading locomotive derailed onto its side and the roof was ripped off by the abutments of the new bridge. The train then pushed the locomotive into a mound of mud before coming to a rest.
Three passengers injured when a CityRail train derailed on 7th July, 1999 between Hornsby and Asquith stations.
Glenbrook railway accident
Three women, three men and a boy died, and 51 people were injured when a peak-hour intercity train bound for Sydney hit the back of the indian Pacific passenger train near the Bruce Street overpass at Glenbrook on 2nd December 1999. As the two crashed trains lay on the tracks with dead and injured people still inside, another train was approaching and it pulled up with only 60 to 90 seconds to spare. The crash was precipitated by faulty signals.The first signal to fail was just outside Glenbrook Station. When there is a fault the light, which is like a traffic light on the side of the track, goes red.
The Indian Pacific approached this signal, stopping because it was red. The driver is believed to have called the Penrith Signal Box and was given the okay to proceed, which he did. However, just over a kilometre down the track he was stopped again by another red light. Meanwhile, behind the Indian Pacific came the intercity train. It, too, stopped at this first failed light. However, despite the presence of the Indian Pacific just down the track, it was cleared to keep going through the red light.
The hearing into the crash discovered that Glenbrook is not covered by an indicator board that shows the position of trains, and therefore the area is something of a blind spot. Also, the issue of communication between trains was raised as the two trains could not speak to each other and had different methods for contacting signallers, because they were operated by different railway operators. While the intercity train had a two-way radio in the cabin, the driver of the Indian Pacific had to get out of his cabin, drive down, and use a phone on the side of the track to call the signallers.
Eight people died and more than 40 people were injured when a peak hour Port Kembla bound four-carriage Tangara passenger train carrying about 70 passengers ran off the rails 4 km south of Waterfall station, south of Sydney at 7.30am on Friday 31th January 2003. Because of the remoteness of the crash scene, ambulance officers could only get one vehicle into the area at a time, making rescue work dangerous and slow. The derailment happened in a cutting with high sandstone embankments on either side of the train. Carrying around 80 passengers, the train is believed to have accelerated moments before it derailed, and then hit one of the embankments.
- Sydney's First Public Railway
- Planning Sydney's Suburban Railway Network
- Building Sydney's Suburban Railway Network
- Building Sydney's City Circle
- Forgotten Tunnels on the City Circle
- Sydney's Central Station
- Sydney's Abandoned Railway Lines
- Sydney's Railway Tunnels
- Sydney's Abandoned Railway Tunnels
- Eveleigh Railway Workshops
- Major Railway Accidents
The Story of Sydney's Railways
Zig Zag railway accident, 8th December 1901