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Commuter Train Wrecked
Granville, Sydney, Australia (1977)
Granville Australia

Background   Circumstances   Rescue   Causes   Credits
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Granville, near Sydney, Australia, 18 January, 1977 a crowded commuter train was derailed and struck the supporting pillars of an over-bridge. The bridge collapsed onto the train killing 83 of the passengers and injuring more than 200 others. This is the story of a tragic, predictable and ultimately unnecessary accident.

Granville, Sydney Australia
Granville 1977. The overturned locomotive No 4620 and the destruction caused to the first carriage in the train.

Background

Circumstances   Rescue   Causes   Credits

The morning commuter train from the Blue Mountains into Sydney was an important train. Clearly, it was impoprtant for the many commuters who used it that it should arrive in New South Wales' capital with time enough for them to reach their desks in time to start their day's work. But the train had an even greater significance for the NSW state government. The line to the Blue Mountain connected a number of marginal constuencies and transport was a major issue of the time. The state-run NSW railway was in a run-down condition and complaints about the service were frequent. For example, the trains themselves were left uncleaned and were so filthy that commuters using the route would carry tissues in order to clean the seats before sitting down. Time keeping was also a problem, but this particular service was given a degree of priority and efforts were made to ensure that it ran to time.
This required some very smart working of the train as there were other, stopping trains using the same path through Sydney's suburbs. At one point there was a margin of just 3 minutes between the Blue Mountains train and a stopping train. Just a short delay could mean that the local train went ahead and the express would be held up causing a late arrival of about 30 minutes. An expedient to help to avoid this was to impose a speed limit at the curve at Granville which was 10 km/h higher than that imposed on all other curves in NSW.

Circumstances

Background   Rescue   Causes   Credits

At 0609 on that Tuesday morning Train No. 108 left Mt Victoria, to the west of Sydney at the start of its regular (126Km) journey into the city. The train, operated by the Public Transport Commission of New South Wales consisted of eight carriages hauled by electric locomotive No. 4620. With a journey time of a little more than 2 hours 20 minutes, the commuters it carried could expect to arrive at 0832.

A signal check at Blacktown was the only impediment to otherwise good timekeeping. But it was the cause of the train being 3 minutes late departing from Parramatta for the non-stop run into Strathfield. With around 25 minutes journey time left and under clear signals, the Train 108 accelerated to the maximum speed permitted for the line, (80km/h). But, as it approached Granville it began to slow in anticipation of a temporary (20km/h) speed restriction. This had been imposed because of track maintenance being carried out east of Granville, at Clyde. As the train entered a left hand curve and travelling at (78 km/h) the locomotive derailed. About 50 yards ahead was the Bold Street Bridge. This carried a road over the railway line and was supported at two points on trellisses each consisting of eight steel stanchions.

Without the constraints of the rails the locomotive started on a course that diverged from the line, causing the first and second carriages to become derailed and the coupling between them to part. As the locomotive came to the bridge it collided with the northern supporting trellis knocking down each of its stanchions. With the first carriage still in tow the locomotive then struck a mast supporting the overhead power lines, causing it to shear near the base. The carriage collided with this mast, now suspended from the overhead power line. With 73 passengers inside, the mast tore through the carriage detaching its roof and tearing away the side walls. Eight of the occupants were killed and 34 were injured. The locomotive had come to a stop slightly ahead of the carriage at a point some 73 yards (67m) beyond the bridge, having fallen onto its right side. Neither the driver nor the secondman were seriously injured.

Derailed carriage No 2 carried on under the bridge and finally came to rest against the northern retaining wall some distance beyond the first carriage. None of the 64 passengers in this vehicle suffered serious injury.

The other 6 carriages remained upright and on the rails and stopped with the rear part of the third carriage and the front part of the fourth carriage beneath the bridge. With the demoloition of the its supports, the bridge was not stable and a joint in the "deck beams" soon began to give way. As a consequence of this, the steelwork carrying the road was pulled away from seatings on the northern abuttment and crashed down onto carriages 3 and 4 beneath it. As it fell, it also brought down part of the central span. The total weight of these parts of the bridge was calculated to be some 570 tonnes. The carriages below offered no resistance to such a force and they were crushed reducing the height of the carriages in some parts to just a few inches. The consequences for the passengers was horrific. Over half of the passengers who were travelling in these carriages died.

The Rescue

Background   Circumstances   Causes   Credits

A rescue operation was very quickly put into effect. This had, as its priority the task of extricating the injured from carriages 3 and 4.
Granville
Two sections of the Bold Street bridge collapsed onto carriages 3 & 4
The stability of what remained of the bridge was by now severely compromised. There was a strong likelihood that the other sections could fall without warning. This of course presented a very real danger to rescuers and any survivors alike. While work proceeded to rescue survivors, work also began on removing the remainder of the bridge which was still standing.
The bridge decking had collapsed as complete sections. This proved to be a major headache for the rescue operation as they could not be removed intact by even the heaviest cranes. They had therefore to be cut up in situ using heavy cutting equipment. A further hazard soon became apparent. Gas (LPG), used for train heating was escaping from cylinders and fractured pipes. Sparks generated by the use of cutting tools threatened to ignite it. In order to lessen this risk, a constant film of water was sprayed over the accident site.
The rescue work was hampered by several other factors. The various organisations at the site, the Police Rescue Squad, the Fire Brigade, Ambulance services, emergency medical teams, railway workers and other volunteer organisations required considerable co-ordination. A crowd of sightseers estimated at about 5000 required a police presence of some 250 officers to maintain control. Even so, there were reports of looting of the rescue equipment and at least one report of the personal effects from a body being stolen. Work to release the injured, trapped under tons of concrete continued for many hours, with the rescuers labouring in the most hazardous conditions. The possibility of a further collapse was a constant threat. The last injured passenger was released ten hours after the accident and it was not until 3.20 pm the following day that the last body was removed from the wreckage.


Dispositon of those killed
Carriage Occupants Deaths
1 73 8
2 64 0
3 77 44
4 64 31
In addition to those who died, 213 people were injured of whom 31 required admission to hospital.

Credits
Background   Circumstances   Rescue   Causes

I would like to extend my thanks to the following whose contribution to the preparation of this article has been invaluable
  • David Johnson
  • Steve Balogh
  • Lynn Healy and
  • Robert Myall

The Causes of the Granville Disaster will be the subject of an additional article to be published soon.

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Copyright David Fry 1998
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