Train Disaster at Murulla
[I recently published a news article about the formation of the “Armidale Newspaper Company, Limited”. Jim Belshaw followed up with a story drawn from his history of his grandfather, David Drummond. In that piece there’s a quote relating to the Glen Innes Examiner’s competitive streak having “got a good one on Tamworth”. They’d got the scoop on the story relating to a rail smash.
I’m now following up with the story of that rail smash. GS.]
HEAD-ON COLLISION. AWFUL SCENES. Heroic Rescue Work.
(From Our Special Reporters.)
The worst railway disaster in the history of New South Wales occurred shortly before midnight last night, when six runaway goods trucks crashed into the north-west mail between the village of Blandford and the Murulla siding.
The goods train had been pulled on to the Murulla siding to allow the north-west mail to pass, when the coupling joining the six rear trucks to the forepart of the train suddenly snapped. It is understood that the guard of the goods train was standing on the side of the line, directing the shunting operations, when the trucks began to move down the line. Although this official made a frantic effort to clamber on to the runaway trucks he was unable to do so, and they disappeared at a terrific speed round a curve in the line.
It was known that the mail train had passed through Blandford station, and those on the siding were sick with fear and apprehension, but powerless to avert the impending catastrophe. A few seconds later there was a deafening crash as the runaway trucks struck, with terrific force, the mail train, and telescoped several carriages. The red-hot coals from the wrecked engine fell on to and ignited several bales of wool with which the trucks were loaded. The flames most fortunately did not reach the smashed carriages, or a much more terrible disaster would have resulted.
ENTRAPPED IN WRECKAGE.
The front of the engine was smashed in, while the two rear trucks of the run-away were reduced to a mass of twisted and shapeless steel. Next to the engine was a first and second class compartment, the occupants of which, with few exceptions, escaped with minor injuries. Next to this carriage was a combined first and second class sleeper, with the roof caved in, while the under-carriage had telescoped the third coach. It was from this latter carriage, which was for second-class passengers, that nearly all the dead and injured were removed. The coach, which crumpled up like a concertina, was smashed to matchwood, and that any one passenger should have escaped uninjured was miraculous.
Following the collision the scene was one of havoc and confusion. The screams and groans of the injured, pinned beneath the wreckage, intermingled with the agonised cries of children, many of whom were returning to school in Sydney, were heartrending. The passengers who had themselves escaped injury worked with all their might to free those who had been entrapped in the wreckage. The first work of rescue was, however, seriously hampered by the lack of axes, saws, and other suitable implements with which to cut through the wreckage, which held its victims pinned mercilessly beneath.
The burning bales of wool, which formed part of the consignment of the goods train, added to the terrors of the survivors, who feared that the wreckage might catch fire.
Mr. H. H. Wright, of Bickham, Blanford station, realising that something terrible had happened, roused half a dozen of his men, and armed with axes, the party was among the first to the rescue. The news of the disaster quickly spread, and within an hour 50 or more willing helpers were assisting in the task of hacking away the splintered timbers.
A preliminary inquiry into the deaths of the persons killed was opened before Mr. G. B. White, District Coroner, at Murrurundi, this afternoon. After formal evidence had been called the further hearing was adjourned until September 29.
A graphic account of the events immediately following the collision was related by Mr. W. C. A. Kay, a resident of Moree, when interviewed by a “Herald” reporter at the Murrurundi Hospital this afternoon. Mr. Kay, who was sitting with his sister in a compartment in the fourth coach from the engine, said that he had, strangely enough, just been talking about the recent train disaster at Aberdeen, when a terrific jolt, which was accompanied by a noise of splintering timber and breaking glass, threw him to the opposite side of the carriage. The next instant he felt his legs become pinioned, and found himself lying with the top half of his body outside the carriage window.
“It was terrible,” he said. “In the next compartment I heard a woman screaming frantically for help, and the piteous cries of a child. Somewhere in the wreckage underneath me I heard a man calling out, ‘For God’s sake lift this off me ; my breath’s going, “Im done!’.”
“I put my hand out,” said Mr. Kay, “and felt a man’s head underneath me, but, pinned in as I was, I could do nothing for him. Above me a man was calling out for his wife, but he got no reply. After what seemed an age, but what could not have been more than half an hour, I heard the chopping of axes, and a few minutes later I was released. One woman whom I helped to drag out had been knocked down, and was lying helpless over her six months’ old baby. The infant, which was on the point of being smothered, was rescued in the nick of time, and, apart from a few bruises, was little the worse for its experience.
“I was talking to the engine driver of the train in here this morning,” continued Mr Kay. “The engine driver told me that, coming round a bend he had been horrified to see the runaway trucks bearing down on him. He jammed the brakes hard on, but was unable to pull the train up. A moment later he heard the fireman shout ‘For God’s sake, jump.” His foot caught in a strap, and the next instant there was a rending crash, and he remembered no more.
“When the enginedriver regained consciousness,” concluded Mr. Kay, “he found himself lying in the tender, partially buried by coal. He was not seriously injured, however, and the enginedriver left the Murrurundi Hospital this afternoon, in company with a friend.”