Granville rail disaster
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|Date||18 January 1977|
Granville, New South Wales|
19.06 km (11.84 mi) WNW from Sydney
|Rail line||Main Western line|
|Operator||Public Transport Commission|
|Type of incident||Derailment|
|Cause||Maintenance of 4620|
The Granville rail/train disaster occurred on Tuesday 18 January 1977 at Granville, New South Wales, a western suburb of Sydney when a crowded commuter train derailed, running into the supports of a road bridge that collapsed onto two of the train's passenger carriages. It remains the worst rail disaster in Australian history and the greatest loss of life in a confined area post war: 84 people died, more than 213 were injured, and 1,300 were affected.
The train involved in the disaster consisted of eight passenger carriages hauled by 46 class electric locomotive 4620, and had commenced its journey towards Sydney from Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains at 6:09 am.. At approximately 8:10 am it was approaching Granville railway station when the locomotive derailed and struck one of the steel-and-concrete pillars supporting the bridge carrying Bold Street over the railway cutting.
The derailed engine and first two carriages passed the bridge. The first carriage broke free from the other carriages. Carriage one was torn open when it collided with a severed mast beside the track, killing eight passengers. 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 bridge, whose weight was estimated at 570 tonnes (560 long tons; 630 short tons). Within seconds, with all its supports demolished, the bridge and several motor cars on top of it crashed onto the carriages, crushing them and the passengers inside.
Of the total number of passengers travelling in the third and fourth carriages, half were killed instantly when the bridge collapsed on them, crushing them in their seats. Several injured passengers were trapped in the train for hours after the accident, with part of the bridge crushing a limb or torso. Some had been conscious and lucid, talking to rescuers, but died of crush syndrome soon after the weight was removed from their bodies. This resulted in changes to rescue procedures for these kinds of accidents. Rescuers also faced greater difficulties as the weight of the bridge was still crushing the affected carriages, reducing the space in which they had to work to get survivors out, until it was declared that no one was allowed to attempt further entry until the bridge had been lifted. Soon after, the bridge settled a further two inches onto the train, trapping two rescuers and crushing a portable generator "like butter".
Another danger came from gas; LPG cylinders were kept year-round on board the train to be used in winter for heating. Several people were overcome by gas leaking from ruptured cylinders. The leaking gas also prevented the immediate use of powered rescue tools. The NSW Fire Brigade provided ventilation equipment to dispel the gas and a constant film of water was sprayed over the accident site to prevent the possibility of the gas igniting.
The train driver, the assistant crewman, the "second man", and the motorists driving on the fallen bridge all survived. The operation lasted from 8:12am Tuesday until 6:00am Thursday. Ultimately, 84 people were killed in the accident which included an unborn child.
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 original 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. However, some 30 years later research for a book uncovered what was always referred to as a cover-up. Finding evidence that the real cause is believed to be a lack of maintenance to the 46 class loco, having a faulty L6 wheel which was found to be unserviceable in August 1976. As no replacement was available it was decided that it would be allowed to remain in service but would be kept under surveillance. It just so happened on the day of the disaster the L6 wheel was the steering wheel and it is believed that as it approached a crossover point known as Lead 73, it climbed the track putting the loco into its fatal direction. How this happened was related to the lack of spare wheels which had been sold off for scrap to raise funds for the Public Transport Commissions' budget.
Other contributing factors included the structure of the bridge itself. When built, the base of its deck was found to be one metre lower than the road. Concrete was added on top to build the surface up level with the road. This additional weight significantly added to the destruction of the wooden train carriages. The disaster prompted substantial increases in rail-maintenance expenditure. The train driver, Edward Olencewicz, was exonerated by the inquiry.
For 39 years, the people of the disaster had little to say until the Granville Train Disaster Association Inc. was formed. This was to represent the emotions of those affected (including relatives and friends) via Barry J Gobbe OAM JP and Meredith Knight JP to the Minister for Transport, Andrew Constance and New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian and requested an apology for the way the real people of the disaster were treated by the then Wran Government of the day. On the 4th of May 2017 Berejiklian gave a formal apology to the victims of the disaster, in New South Wales Parliament House.
The Granville Train Disaster Memorial
Shortly after the disaster, a voluntary group who called themselves the 'Memorial Trust' who were never registered, collected unknown donation amounts to allegedly erect the memorial wall for ongoing memorial services. Therefore, allowing the annual memorial service to continue for years to come. Families and friends of the victims and survivors gather with surviving members of the rescue crews annually to remember those who did not return home that day.  The ceremony ends with the throwing of 84 roses on to the tracks to mark the number of passengers killed. In 2007, a plaque was placed on the bridge to mark the efforts of railway workers who assisted in rescuing survivors from the train.
The original group known as the trust made 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. In 2016, the relatives, survivors and the rescuers decided to take over the running of the memorial services and formed the Granville Train Disaster Association Inc. (GTDA). This coincided with changes in local government and legislative changes along with Traffic management legislation and insurance responsibilities. Due to the restructure of Parramatta City Council, Holroyd Council and the Auburn council with amalgamation came a rezoning of areas. This would now mean that the Granville Memorial site would now fall under the control of the newly formed Cumberland Council. As Parramatta City Council who had been the main supporter of the event for some 39 years, financing and supplying staff to assist each year, Cumberland Council decided that the Memorial Services would not be an event under their administration management and advised the GTDA who are a collection of volunteers who were directly involved with the disaster, to apply for a council events grant if they wished the annual services to continue, simply stating that this was not a documented council event, even though over 100 people gather on their council footpath at the memorial wall every year to remember and respect those who perished on that fateful day in 1977 in the now Cumberland Council area. The decision by the Cumberland Council administration was then challenged by the GTDA with the support of the newly formed Cumberland Council elected councillors. On the 6/6/2018 councillors, Hamed & Elmore put forward a motion that 'council fully support the annual memorial service with the assistance of the GTDA'. It was also amended and noted, to invite assistance from Parramatta City Council and the NSW State Government. The motion was unanimously carried by all councillors present. http://www.granvilletraindisaster.info/
- A television docudrama, The Day of the Roses, was produced in 1998 about the accident.
- A television documentary, The Train, produced by Graham McNeice was aired in 2012 on The History Channel Australia about the accident, and narrated by Brian Henderson.
Similar rail accidents
- "Unborn child victim remembered at Granville memorial after 40 years".
- "Granville Rail/Train Disaster". Granville History. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
- "Danger Ahead! Granville, Sydney, Australia (2)". Retrieved 30 December 2016.
- "Medical Review Seminar Lidcombe Hospital −15 February 1977". Granville Historical Society. 24 October 2007. Archived from the original on 27 December 2003. Retrieved 20 March 2008.
- "Granville". Film Australia. 1977. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
- "True story of courage and compassion". 17 January 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
- "Granville: Mixed response as NSW Government apologises for Australia's worst train disaster". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 4 May 2017. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
- "Granville victims remembered". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 18 January 2007. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
- "Granville 41 years on". WSFM 101.7. 18 January 2018. Retrieved 10 January 2008.[dead link]
- "Waterfall disaster fine low: opposition". National Nine News. 16 January 2007. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
- "Rail safety election vow by Brogden". The Sydney Morning Herald. 18 January 2003. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
- The way it is: Brian Henderson back for TV doco | The Sydney Morning Herald 12 December 2012. Retrieved 19 January 2016
- Danger Ahead! Granville, Sydney, Australia
- Documentary on the Granville Train Disaster (video)
- "Formal Investigation of an Accident on or about the Up Main Western Railway Line at Granville on 18th January 1977 - Summary of findings". NSW State Records. 11 May 1977.
- Granville Train Disaster Historians Web page