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Murulla Train Disaster: Trial concluded

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Thursday 9 December 1926, The Sydney Morning Herald

The trial of Enginedriver Turner and Guard Davies on a charge of manslaughter in connection with the Murulla disaster was concluded yesterday.

After an absence of 15 minutes, the jury returned with a verdict of not guilty, and the accused were discharged.

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Written by macalba

August 7, 2010 at 8:03 pm

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Murulla Train Disaster: Inquest Ends

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Monday 11 October 1926, The Sydney Morning Herald

Goods Train Driver and Guard Committed for Trial.

(FROM OUR SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE.)

MURRURUNDI, Saturday.

At the conclusion of the inquest into the deaths of 26 persons in the disaster to the north-west mail train near Murulla on the night of September 13 the District Coroner (Mr. G. B. White) committed for trial Driver Ernest Turner and Guard David Thomas Davies, of the goods train from which trucks broke away and crashed into the mall train.

Turner and Davies were allowed bail, one in £50 or two in £25 in each case.

The Coroner added the following rider:- “I find that there was no automatic coupling pin in the brake van of the goods train. I also find that if such automatic coupling pin had been in the brake van and had been used as officially suggested, such accident and loss of life would have been avoided. I further find that on the evidence of the Chief Mechanical Engineer for Railways and other departmental experts an omission of great importance occurs in the list of the guard’s equipment for goods trains, as no mention is made of the automatic coupling pin as part of such equipment. The grave consequence resulting therefrom is that departmentally no person is regarded as culpably responsible for the absence of such pin, and essential principles of safe working have been overlooked.”

DRIVER’S STORY.

Ernest Turner, residing at Mayfield, driver of the goods train, in reply to Mr. Rogers (Crown Law Office) said that he was hardly responsible for the statement he had given to the police, as he had just made a lengthy statement to his superior officer, and he was much upset.

Mr. Rogers read an addition to the statement made to the police, in which witness said that he had been previously unaware that the guard had not coupled up the air hoses, and that the air was not in the rear of the train.

Mr. Rogers read a long statement from witness to his departmental officer, in which he stated that the guard remarked that they would do better without the air in the rear part of the train, as the rope might stretch and part the air hose. After the breakaway he ran down after the trucks and waved his hand lamp, in an endeavour to attract the attention of the North-west mail, which he knew was in the section. The night officer ran past him after the runaway trucks.

Continuing, witness said that the first indication of a break in the train was shown by his air gauge, which rapidly dropped immediately after the tablets were exchanged, and the train was automatically stopped. After asking the guard to secure the rear portion of his train, witness said to him, “Have you got a pin?”

Mr. Rogers: Yet you made no mention of that in either of your statements.

Witness: No. The guard replied, “We are not issued with a pin.”

Witness said that he did not know it was part of the equipment of a van, nor did he expect to find one in the van.

At the instance of Mr. Rogers, witness demonstrated how he and the guard passed the hook and tall rope three times through the top link of the chain.

Witness said that he did not couple the air hose.

Mr. Rogers: Why didn’t you?

Witness: I didn’t. That is the end of it, Mr. Rogers: Did you forget it?

Witness: Yes, if I had thought of it, I would have coupled it.

Witness said that he was sure he put the tail rope three times round the link and pulled it as tight as he could.

After the luncheon adjournment the Coroner asked Mr. Rogers if, in view of the serious position witness was in, he wished to ask him any more questions.

Mr. Rogers: Only a few, your Worship.

In answer to Mr. Rogers, witness said that it was not his duty to couple up the air hoses. He left it for the guard to do.

Mr. Rogers: Suppose it did break, what harm would it do?

Witness: We could not go on. Continuing, he said that it would be his duty to see that his train had a full pressure of air before the hand brakes and sprags were taken off. If he had told the police that, he did not know the guard had not coupled up the air hose in the train. Witness would admit that his two statements were irreconcilable.

GUARD’S EVIDENCE.

David Thomas Davies, residing at Adamstown, guard of No. 62 goods train on September 13, the last witness to be called, said the break in the coupling was not his fault. He had no automatic pin, and he had to use the tail rope supplied. It was put on securely, and broke through no fault of his. No effort on his part could have prevented the accident. The police interviewed him while he was in bed, and got a statement, which he signed.

In this statement, tendered as an exhibit by Mr. Sproule, witness described the steps taken by himself and the signalman to stop the runaway trucks. He said he did not test his air brake in the van, because he know there was no air.

Mr. Sproule (for the Australian Railways Union) said that in view of the warning given to witness by the coroner, that he need not answer questions which might incriminate him, he would advise Davies not to give any further evidence.

Written by macalba

August 5, 2010 at 8:07 pm

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Aftermath of Murulla Train Disaster

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Wednesday 15 September 1926, The Sydney Morning Herald

SURVIVORS' STORIES.
Bodies Hurled in all directions.
RESCUES BY MATCHLIGHT.
SCENES IN THE SHATTERED CARRIAGES.

Shortly after 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon Sydney Central Station became the rendezvous of numerous relations and friends of the people on the ill-fated train. Those assembled in groups of four or five around the indicator board which announced the arrivals of the trains from the country centres, and as the word was passed along that the train from Glen Innes arriving about 4 p.m. would convey the first batch of survivors, a steady stream of people poured through the gates of No. 1 platform till almost all available standing space and seating accommodation were taxed.

One of the first of the survivors to step out of the Glen Innes train which arrived on Sydney Central Station shortly after 4 o’clock in the afternoon was Mr. Manchee, grazier, of Moree, who was greeted by some anxious friends and relations. Mr. Manchee said the scenes he had witnessed were indescribable. For almost one hour the survivors were left to their own resources to improvise ambulance equipment and relief measures before assistance came. Fires were lighted on the banks on each side of the train, the splintered carriages providing the fuel. The work of rescue was made the more difficult through the darkness, which was relieved here and there by the spurt of a match flame as some group of rescuers groped their way after the sufferers inside the shattered second-class compartment. This compartment, on which the bulk of the rescue work centred, Mr. Manchee described as a shambles. The behaviour of the people was wonderful, and there was an entire absence of panic. The conduct of the schoolgirls in particular was exemplary. They did not scream nor show excitement, but quietly did as they were told.

Mr. J. Squire, of Camperdown, was another survivor who arrived by the 4 o’clock train. Welcomed by his wife on the station, Mr. Squire emerged from the train limping badly as a result of a crushed knee, and he bore his pain with quiet resignation. He was in the carriage behind the shattered compartment, and considered himself one of the lucky ones.

Another to escape almost unhurt was Miss Jones, of Katoomba.

EXTRICATING THE VICTIMS.

A well-known Sydney business man, who was travelling with his wife and young son on the train, described the appearance of the shattered carriage as one of unforgettable gruesomeness. Heads, arms, and legs were jumbled up in all directions, bodies being piled upon each other in heaps. The whole scene was one of horror. The work of extricating the victims was extremely arduous owing to the darkness, and also on account of the closely wedged position of the victims, many of whom could not be moved, after levering or hacking away woodwork, without seriously hurting some unfortunate sufferer alongside.

A pathetic scene was witnessed as a father fought for an hour to save his ten-year-old son’s life. The boy, whose back was badly injured, lay at the foot of the ill-fated second-class compartment, and his father had literally to hack his way, piece by piece, through the wood to reach the boy, who bore his pain with splendid fortitude.

The bodies of the two men who were on the runaway wool wagons were found, both dead, one badly battered, near the railway fence among some bales of wool. The other had received terrible head injuries. Both had apparently been hurled several yards by the force of the collision.

MENACE OF FIRE.

George Smith, conductor of the following train, said that when he came on the scene he found that the carriage on one of the bogies had been completely swept away, leaving nothing but the bogie and the floor. He considered it was little short of a wonder that things were not worse, as the flames from the burning wool, which were shooting fifty feet into the air, might very easily have caught the train and the unextricated victims.

Survivors described their first impressions of the moment of the collision in excited and vivid fashion. One likened it to a “series of jumps, followed by a bang.” Another described his first impression as a rude awakening from sleep, a hurtling of portmanteaux through the air on to the floor of the sleeper, whilst he himself was tumbling from an upper bunk on top of them.

With commendable promptitude scores of the able-bodied survivors made for the scene of greatest suffering as they recovered themselves, and emerged from their carriages ; and rescue parties worked in groups of twos and threes right up to 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, some going on till daylight. The guard’s van was searched for ambulance equipment, but none could be found amidst the welter of mailbags and packages.

AIDING THE SUFFERERS.

Sheets from the sleeper and handkerchiefs were used as bandages and bindings, and the cushions from the compartment seats were made into comfortable stretchers for the sufferers as they were lined out on the grass. One local doctor, a man of nearly 70 years of age, arrived on the scene in his pyjamas, scarcely an hour after the accident. Suddenly aroused from sleep, this gentleman rushed to the scene with first aid and surgical kit, and performed amazingly hard work in assisting the wounded, and helping with the rescue of the victims. One victim, a man was found jammed between two carriages, whilst a dead man lay wedged on top of him, and the rescuers were compelled to sever the dead man’s limbs to free the man below.

SCHOOLBOYS’ EXPERIENCES.

Two school boys, David Secconde, aged 12 and Tom Scholefield, aged 14, said that they were in the first coach of the Moree mail train at the time of the accident, and were precipitated on to the floor. They made a hurried exit from their carriage into some prickly pear by the embankment. Their carriage escaped damage. The elder boy was on his way to Barker College, and the younger to the Beecroft Grammar School. They came from Rowena.

Written by macalba

August 4, 2010 at 8:09 pm

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Train Disaster at Murulla

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[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.]

Wednesday 15 September 1926, The Sydney Morning Herald

HEAD-ON COLLISION.
AWFUL SCENES.
Heroic Rescue Work.
(From Our Special Reporters.)
MURRURUNDI, Tuesday.

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.

VICTIMS’ EXPERIENCES.

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.”

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August 3, 2010 at 8:07 pm

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