I’ve posted this video before, but today is the annual day of significance for the events depicted in the docu-drama (I would really rather have the scene where the Coroner’s staff arrived at the railway workshops to inspect the locomotive).
On this day in 1977, budget cuts to a very busy railway resulted in the loss of 83 lives. An electric locomotive which had already caused at least one serious derailment was conveying a heavily crowded passenger train across a patch of track that had severely deteriorated due to insufficient maintenance. The locomotive, number 4620, came off the rails at high speed and crashed through the support piers of a road bridge that then collapsed onto the train.
There have been claims, including one by the Coroner investigating the wreck, that the State Government attempted to hurry the investigation along and thereby overlook significant factors that contributed to the cause of the accident.
With the public newly alert to the maintenance crisis, the State Government greatly increased expenditure on maintenance for the railways. Over the next decade the railways of New South Wales became largely trouble free, that is until the current State Government returned to the negligent ways of the past, and more accidents were the result including some with multiple fatalities:
A heritage steam excursion train stalled on a steep climb, and the signalling system failed to hold a commuter train which crashed into the rear carriages of the excursion train. There are claims that traction sand from the steam locomotive insulated the train’s wheels from the track circuiting equipment (the entire train?1?) causing the signals to show a clear track. However an almost identical accident occurred a few years later, with traction sand not being a factor. Six people died including the driver of the commuter train.
In very similar fashion to the Cowan Bank Accident, a commuter train collided with a stationery passenger train because the signalling system again failed. Seven people died, however in the last few seconds before the collision the driver was able to call for passengers to evacuate the forward section. He survived, and probably saved additional lives as well.
(Waterfall is a town, not an actual waterfall) On a passenger train travelling from Sydney to Wollongong the driver abruptly died of a heart attack while the train was descending a steep grade. The Tangara class of train was proved to have inadequate safeguards against such an event and the train continued without control, gathering speed until it derailed on a curve, with seven people dying as a result. Passengers within the train, including those of several carriages which had tipped onto their side, were unable to escape because the doors could not be released without power from the overhead supply.
The investigation (which was hindered somewhat because the train did not have the standard black box recorder installed at the time) determined that due to the driver’s weight and the train being on a descent at the time, his body had slumped forward and held down the footplate (known as the “dead man controll”). No other vigilance control was present.
There had also been numerous other accidents which were non-fatal. The State Premier of the time, Mr Robert Carr, in responding to a (non-fatal) derailment at Waverton commented “We all have ideas about what funding should be applied, but the current level of funding for the railways is realistic.” However further accidents, including the one at Waterfall, showed that his level of funding was NOT realistic. He went on to fund worthless projects such as the Sydney Cross City Tunnel (for vehicular traffic), which has proved a financial disaster and embarrassment for the State Government. Only in the last few years has the railway situation improved, with Employees of the New South Wales state railway working hard to correct the problems inflicted by years of government penny pinching.