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Aerial view of the disaster scene at Granville, 18 January 1977. Photo: Blue Mountains City Library, Local Studies Collection PF 1472-3.

Aerial view of the disaster scene at Granville, 18 January 1977. Photo: Blue Mountains City Library, Local Studies Collection PF 1472-2.

Granville Railway Disaster

David Matheson

 18 January 2021

The Granville Railway Disaster was the worst railway accident in Australia, resulting in the deaths of 83 people. Granville is located in the western suburbs of Sydney.

 

The accident

On 18 January 1977, train No. 108, the 6.09 am from Mt Victoria, in the Blue Mountains, departed on time and was scheduled to arrive at Sydney Terminal station at 8.32 am. It was a regular weekday commuter train taking passengers from the Blue Mountains and western Sydney to the city. On this day the train was formed by electric locomotive 4620 and eight carriages: MFH2701, MFA2706, MBA2700, MFH2703, MFH2705, MFA2702, MFA 2704 and MFH2707. It was driven by Ted Olencewicz, who was joined in the cab by observer Bill McCrossin. Guard Leslie Thomas was in the rear carriage of the train.

 

Prior to the accident, the train’s journey was without problems, stopping all stations from Mt Victoria to Penrith, except Linden, and then Parramatta. It departed Parramatta at 8.10 am, three minutes behind schedule. By this time at least 469 passengers were on board. The train accelerated to 80 km/h, the maximum permissible speed for that section of line. Two minutes after departing Parramatta, the train was travelling around a curve as it approached Granville station when locomotive 4620 derailed, which also caused the derailment of carriages 1 and 2. It proceeded uncontrolled for a further 46 metres before the locomotive struck and demolished one of the steel trestles supporting the Bold Street overbridge. 4620 continued on and came to rest on its side, a further 67 metres beyond the bridge. An electric power line mast was sheared off at its base and ploughed through carriage 1, much of which was demolished to almost the level of the floor. Carriage 1 came to rest partly on its side with its detached roof on the adjacent tracks. Carriage 2 was separated from carriage 1 and came to rest tilted against a retaining wall. The damage to the Bold Street Bridge’s supports led it to collapse, most of it falling on to carriages 3 and 4 of the train.

 

The accident caused significant loss of life and injury. Eight of the 73 passengers in carriage 1 died. Carriage 2 was relatively unscathed and no passengers in this carriage died or were seriously injured. Carriages 3 and 4 experienced the greatest loss of life. 44 of the 77 passengers in carriage 3 died and 31 of the 64 passengers in carriage 4 died. The train crew were shaken but not seriously injured. Several motor vehicles were on the bridge when it collapsed but none of their occupants were injured. A total of 83 train passengers died and 213 were injured, with 31 of the injured being admitted to hospital.

 

Rescue and repairs

Nearby signalmen immediately changed all signals in the area to stop and sounded an alarm that activated a large rescue operation. Workers involved included those from the police, fire and ambulance services, medical teams from local hospitals, railway workers and volunteers. Conditions were dangerous as there was a possibility that the bridge could collapse further. Injured passengers and the bodies of the deceased were removed from the wreckage.

 

Large road cranes were brought in to assist with the removal of concrete and steel. Particular care had to be taken to ensure that debris did not fall further on top of rescuers or passengers still trapped in the wreckage. The rear four carriages of the train were taken back to Parramatta by locomotive 48158 at around midday. Breakdown trains with cranes were later brought in to assist the recovery work. Locomotive 4620, which had hauled train No. 108, was removed from the accident scene about 8.30 pm and taken to Chullora workshops. It was closely examined as part of the subsequent inquiry. 4620 never operated in service again and was subsequently scrapped. By around 10.00 pm on 19 January, around 38 hours after the accident, a train with open wagons was brought in to take away some of the debris. Clean up work had been mostly completed by the following afternoon, and work was directed towards restoring signalling and overhead wiring. A temporary bridge over the railway line at Bold St, Granville, was opened on 3 February. A permanent replacement bridge was eventually built.

 

Special operations were put into place while the railway line at Granville was closed. Trains operating between the city and Liverpool or Campbelltown via Granville were diverted to run via Regents Park. A shuttle service was provided between Cabramatta and Merrylands. Services from the west terminated at Parramatta, while services from the city on the western line terminated at Clyde. Buses were provided between Parramatta and Clyde. Most Sydney-bound Blue Mountains commuter services had already passed though Granville when the accident occurred, and were blocked from returning to the mountains to provide services the following morning. Three trains were sent from Sydney to Lithgow via Goulburn and Blayney, and were able to supplement the limited services available the next day. Long-distance trains on the western line were particularly affected, with buses replacing trains for part of the journey. The Up Indian Pacific on the day of the accident was diverted to operate via Cowra and Goulburn, eventually arriving at Sydney around eight hours late. Down and Up Indian Pacific trains on the following day ran via Cootamundra, Junee, Narrandera, Griffith and Hillston. Freight trains were also diverted. Regular train services through Granville were restored around 11.00 pm on 20 January, approximately 63 hours after the accident.

 

Investigation

A formal investigation into the accident was conducted by Judge James Staunton, QC, Chief Judge of the District Court. Judge Staunton was assisted by Richard Pascoe, Commissioner of Western Australian Government Railways, and John Laurie, Director of Maunsell and Partners, an engineering company. Their report was tabled in parliament on 31 May. It identified the poor condition of the track as the cause of the accident:

 

The cause of the derailment was clearly the very unsatisfactory condition in the permanent way in the lead of No. 73 points on the up main western line. Static widening of gauge, a capacity for lateral rail movement and poor track geometry created a potentially dangerous situation. The application of sufficient lateral force to the high rail by locomotive 4620 in negotiating the curve at a sufficiently high speed provided the trigger mechanism for the derailment.

The poor condition of the track was the result of the failure to detect and remedy the defects to which reference has been made.

(Report on the formal investigation of an accident on or about the Up Main Western railway line at Granville on 18th January, 1977, p. 20.)

 

The report indicated that the left front wheel of locomotive 4620 had derailed by falling inside its rail where the track had widened in the lead of a set of points for a crossover on the curve approaching Granville. A failure to lay down a clear and definite policy regarding the frequency of gauge measurements, particularly track leading to points, was identified in the report. Also, there had been a failure to keep track staff fully informed of developments in track inspection and maintenance operations. There was a need for high training standards for track supervisors.

 

Aftermath

The New South Wales Government announced an additional expenditure of $200 million on track work over five years. Track maintenance staff numbers were increased by 500 within six months of the Granville accident. The New South Wales Government issues 277 special medallions in recognition of individuals involved in the rescue effort.

 

A memorial garden is located on the corner of Railway Parade and Carlton St, Granville, opposite the replacement Bold St Bridge. The Day of the Roses, a television drama about the Granville disaster, was released in 1998.

 

References

‘Granville’, Railway Digest, vol. 15, no. 3, March 1977, pp. 53–9.

‘Granville inquiry’, Railway Digest, vol. 15, no. 7, July 1977, pp. 158–9.

Gobbe, BJ, Revisiting the Granville train disaster of 1977, Barry James & Associates, Sydney, 2014.

Pearce, K, Australian railway disasters, 2nd edn, IPL, Sydney, 1999.

Staunton, JH, Report on the formal investigation of an accident on or about the Up Main Western railway line at Granville on 18th January, 1977,

     Sydney, 1977.

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Aerial view of the disaster scene at Granville, 18 January 1977. Photo: Blue Mountains City Library, Local Studies Collection PF 1472-1.

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Granville train crash memorial, 22 June 2019.