The Granville rail disaster occurred on 18 January 1977 at Granville, a suburb in Western Sydney, when a crowded commuter train derailed, running into the supports of a road bridge which came down onto two of its passenger carriages. Eighty-three people died, more than 210 were injured, and 1,300 were affected.
It is the worst rail disaster in Australian history based on loss of life.
The crowded 6:09 am Sydney-bound commuter train from Mount Victoria, in the Blue Mountains, was approaching Granville railway station when it left the rails at approximately 8:10 am and hit a row of supports of the overhead Bold Street bridge, constructed from steel and concrete.
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 pole 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. 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.
Many passengers in the third and fourth carriages were killed instantly when the bridge crushed them in their seats. Several injured passengers were trapped in the train, for hours after the accident, by 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 was due to the sudden release of substances such as potassium from the injured limb. This resulted in changes to rescue procedures for these kinds of accidents.
The train driver, second man, and the motorists driving on the fallen bridge all survived.
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 enquiry 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. How this happened was related to the high turnover of staff combined with a lack of standard procedures for track inspections. The posted limit for the track was not shown to be too high, provided appropriate track inspection and maintenance was occurring.
The disaster triggered substantial increases in rail-maintenance expenditure.
The Granville Memorial Trust was established in the wake of the accident to commemorate the victims and campaign for improvements to rail safety.
The Trust organises an annual memorial service on the anniversary of the crash. Families and friends of the victims gather with surviving members of the rescue crews in a march through Granville to the Bold Street bridge where the accident occurred. The ceremony ends with the throwing of 83 roses on to the tracks to mark the number of passengers killed. In 2007, a plaque was placed atop the bridge to mark the efforts of railway workers who assisted in rescuing survivors from the train.
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