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Granville Disaster (1977)

Tuesday 18 January 1977 started as an ordinary working day in Sydney, Australia. Then at 8:12 am, a city-bound commuter train from Mt Victoria in the Blue Mountains, running three minutes late, left the tracks and ploughed into the Bold Street overpass bridge at Granville, a Western Suburb of Sydney.

Seconds later, the impact of the collision caused a 380-tonne section of the bridge to collapse, crushing the train’s first four carriages. Many died where they sat in a space reduced to less than 50cm.

83 passengers lost their lives and 213 were injured in a disaster that was destined to leave lifelong physical and emotional scars for the rescued and rescuers alike.

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A young nurse, Margaret Warby, made her way back again and again into the wreckage to help survivors and was later awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for her heroism that day.

The track upon which the train was running had a speed limit of 80 km/h and was in very poor condition due to lack of maintenance.

Despite the actual speed of the train (78 km/h), It was this that caused the locomotive to derail.

At another point on the line, the derailment would have been nothing more than a minor incident as the train could have come to rest quite safely causing few, if any injuries.

It was very unfortunate that the train happened to be passing under a bridge. This was not a single-span construction, being supported, mid-point by concrete columns.

The two coaches immediately behind the engine were also derailed and the coupling between the first and second coaches parted. The locomotive continued to pull the first coach clear of the bridge, but the second coach, free of the authority of the engine moved increasingly off course and struck the central bridge supports.

It did so with such force as to dislodge them, bringing the roadway above crashing down onto the train.

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Rescuers were faced with a difficult and hazardous operation to rescue the injured and to bring out the dead passengers. The last injured person was rescued some ten hours after the accident and the entire operation, which involved the use of heavy cutting equipment, lasted well into the following night.

Speculation about the cause of the accident focussed on the train-driver and any possible error that he could have made. The subsequent enquiry completely exonerated him, placing the blame on the lack of maintenance.

It was an extraordinary and very regrettable feature of this accident that despite his blamelessness, the driver received a number of threats to his life with accusations that he had caused the accident.