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The accident scene at West Ryde on 28 January 1970. Photo: State Library image collection, File Number: FL3356211.


Derailed carriages from the North Coast Mail at West Ryde on 28 January 1970. Photo: State Library image collection, File Number: FL3383946.


North Coast Mail Derailment at West Ryde

David Matheson

 26 January 2020

No. 14 Sydneybound North Coast Mail became derailed as it approached West Ryde on Wednesday, 28 January 1970. The train came to rest at the station, with one of the carriages lying on its side. One passenger was killed and 14 others were injured. A broken axle on TRC 31240 was identified as the cause of the accident.


The North Coast Mail had departed South Grafton the previous day on time at 3.23 pm with locomotive 4411 hauling TRC 31240, FS 2117, BS 2077, TAM 913, MCE 258, KP 732, MHO 1963, MHO 1998, IHO 1285 and KHO 627. Driver Hickey and Fireman Baker of Taree Deport worked the train from Taree, along with Guard Sullivan of Sydney Depot, who worked the train from Kempsey. At Broadmeadow the KHO was detached, leaving nine carriages for a total weight of 367 tons (373 tonnes). Immediately behind locomotive 4411 was TRC 31240, a refrigerated wagon with a load of meat for export. It had been loaded at South Grafton with 934 cartons of meat and thirty-two 40.8 kg blocks of ice, making a total weight of 28.4 tonnes, more than four tonnes under the capacity of the vehicle.


At approximately 5.10 am the train reached mileage 12.14.95c (19.612 km), about 230 metres north of West Ryde station. Marks found later on a sleeper at this point indicated that one wheel had become derailed on the inside of the up rail. About 10 metres further on, marks found inside the down rail indicated that the wheel on the opposite side had become derailed. Both wheels had become derailed inside the rails as a result of the trailing axle of the rear bogie on the TRC becoming broken. As the train continued, the damaged bogie of the TRC became detached from the wagon at the crossovers approaching the station. The following carriages also became derailed. 4411 and the TRC, with its rear bogie broken away, stopped about 70 metres beyond the station. The rest of the train came to rest at the platform with FS 2117 on its side on the down line, BS 2077 tilted, and the remaining carriages derailed but in upright positions.


Emergency services arrived at the scene quickly. Ten passengers were trapped in the leading passenger carriage for about ten minutes, until rescued by a policeman and station attendants. Fifteen passengers were taken to Ryde Hospital for treatment, with one of them later passing away. The injured passengers had all been travelling in the leading passenger carriage, FS 2117. All of the injured passengers had been taken to hospital by 6.00 am, and the clearing of the remaining passengers had been completed by 7.25 am.


The section of track where the derailment occurred was on a 1 in 40 falling grade. As the train had approached West Ryde, an application of the brakes was made to reduce the speed to 50 miles per hour (80.47 km/h). On reaching the platform the brakes were released. Driver Hickey reported being thrown forward by a surge as the train passed the platform. The air hoses connecting the TRC to the rest of the train had become disconnected during the derailment, causing an automatic brake application. After the train had stopped both Driver Hickey and Fireman Baker looked back and noticed that the train had become derailed.


At the time of the accident, Guard Sullivan was travelling in MHO 1963, three carriages from the rear of the train. He reported hearing a noise underneath the train as it approached West Ryde. This was followed by a bigger noise, and Sullivan realised that the train was running on the sleepers. After the train came to a stand, he checked on the wellbeing of the Poster Master General employees working in the KP, found the Assistant Station Master, and contacted the Trouble Officer by telephone to report the accident. The sleeping car conductor assisted passengers from the train, and helped police place an injured man on a stretcher.


Both lines through West Ryde were placed out of use. Long distance trains, including interurban services, were diverted to the North Shore Line. Railway breakdown crews from Enfield arrived at the scene at 6.35 am, with a 70 ton (71.1 tonnes) breakdown crane arriving at 7.30 am. Re-railing work was carried out from both the Sydney and Hornsby ends of the accident, and to allow this work to take place it was necessary to remove the overhead wiring from both lines. A new bogie needed to be placed underneath the TRC before it could be re-railed. Overhead wring was restored by 3.00 pm. Work continued, and the final carriage was re-railed at 6.40 pm.


Repairs to the tracks, signalling wire and other equipment proceeded at the same time as the carriages of the North Coast Mail were being re-railed. Subsequent investigations indicated that the track at West Ryde was in first class condition prior to the derailment.


One of the wheels from the trailing bogie of TRC 31240 was lying about half-way along the tracks next to the station, in between the derailed MCE and the platform face. The broken axle was clear to investigators, and further evidence indicated that this was the cause of the derailment.


Personal Stories

Sydney metropolitan and some regional newspapers reported the accident, describing screaming passengers being thrown from their seats, screeching metal and breaking glass.


The Sun reported that William Matheson saved his granddaughter as she was being hurled through the train window during the crash:

“I was bringing my grandchildren, Frances, 6, and Helen, 4, back from a holiday on the North Coast,” he said. “We were all thrown off the seats. Young Helen started to fly out the window. I grabbed her and pulled her back. When we eventually stopped we were all in a heap. We could see the sky, up through the windows. We couldn’t get out. Then somebody came with a small ladder and we gout out safely.”



‘Broken axle caused fatal train smash’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 January 1970, p. 4.

Department of Railways, New South Wales, Traffic Branch, 28.1.70, West Ryde: No. 14 North Coast Mail, derailed at mileage 12.14.95c, train

     stopped at mileage 11.71.47c. with FS.1117 on its side causing fatality and injuries to passengers,  (Joint report), 1970, State Archives & 

     Records, New South Wales, State Rail Authority Records, R490/2/11.

 ‘One dead, 15 hurt as Mail slams into platform’, Daily Mirror, 28 January 1970, pp. 2–3.

‘West Ryde: 1 dead, 35 hurt’, The Sun, 28 January 1970, pp. 2–3.

‘West Ryde derailment’, Railway Digest, vol. 7, no. 10, February 1970, pp. 10-11.

A longer version of this article appeared in:

Matheson, D, ‘North Coast Mail derailment at West Ryde’, Australian Railway History, No. 859, May 2009, pp. 168–71.


The modern West Ryde station looking north, 1 November 2008. The North Coast Mail on 28 January 1970 was travelling towards the photographer on what is now the middle track.


Diesel locomotive 4490, Central, 13 June 2016. The locomotive involved in the derailment, 4411, was the same class as 4490.

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