If you wish to make inquiries re the anniversary
ceremonies held each year please contact:
The Trustee for Granville Trust
The Granville Train Disaster Association Inc.
Designed by the Granville Train Disaster Association Inc.
GRANVILLE TRAIN DISASTER
The SPEAKER: I acknowledge in the gallery today the family and friends of those who were so profoundly affected by the Granville train disaster in 1977, particularly the families of the 83 victims, emergency services personnel and the many people whose lives were forever impacted by this tragedy. We welcome you to the gallery. I welcome also the Federal member for Lindsay, Emma Husar.
Ms GLADYS BE REJIKLIAN ( Willoughby-Premier) (10:11): I move:
That this House:
(1)Notes that on 18 January 1977, 83 men, women and children were killed and 213 injured in the Granville train disaster.
(2)Recognises that acknowledgement of the profound and lasting effect the disaster had on victims, their loved ones and the community more broadly, is long overdue.
(3)Offers a deep and sincere apology to those people whose lives were irrevocably changed at Granville that day.
There are tragic days in history that have a lasting impact on our collective memory. We very rarely see them coming, but their impact and the way we choose to respond to them have a profound and lasting effect on victims, their loved ones and the community more broadly. The day of 18 January 1977 was such a day. It was the day of the Granville train disaster, which was then and still remains the worst rail disaster in our nation's history. It was the day that 83 innocent men, women and children lost their lives. Another 213 people on board were injured, many trapped in crumpled carriages for hours and hours.
They were just going about their lives the way they would on any other day. Most were on their regular daily commute to work and school, sitting in the seat they sat on most days on the train they caught just about every morning. As the scale of the disaster unfolded that day, our city did respond. Thousands of Sydneysiders rolled up their sleeves to donate blood to help the victims, and volunteers gathered to assist in whatever way they could. Many of those on the train who were not seriously injured did anything they could to help fellow passengers.
The first responders-and I want to make a special mention of them today-put their skills and training into practice when it was needed most. They included the Police Rescue Squad, the Fire Brigades, the Ambulance Service, emergency medical teams, railway workers and volunteer organisations. They all did their services proud in an extremely difficult situation.
I want to take this opportunity, after 40 years from that sad and horrific day, to acknowledge and apologise on behalf of the State Government to all those who still suffer today as a consequence of what happened that day. I acknowledge the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure who raised this on behalf of the Government and I thank him for ensuring that this apology occurs today. We appreciate also that many of you in the gallery were part of that process to ensure that the very least we could do was to make this important commitment to you today in terms of an apology.
There were following inquiries to the disaster and there was a significant commitment made to invest in safety in the rail system, and that continues to this day. But I also know in my years as transport Minister that the responsibility of ensuring the safety of hundreds of thousands of commuters every day on the rail network weighed heavily on me. I know it weighs heavily on the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure and anyone who has held that position. Today billions of dollars are invested to make sure our system is fully maintained and to ensure the utmost safety on our rail network at every opportunity.
Today is about making amends by giving an apology and acknowledging that it should have been given 40 years ago. I know that is why you are here today. I also know that some victims and their families feel so aggrieved that the apology did not happen before today that they did not attend here; they still carry a sense of burden about the way they were treated after the tragedy occurred. I want to say to all of you here today, we appreciate your attendance. We appreciate that this does not give you closure but that it does allow you to continue your journey of healing. That is certainly the feedback I have received from many of you in the gallery who have spoken to me over the years about what you felt that day and in the decades since.
I want to stress also the impact that this disaster on 18 January 1977 had not only on the victims and their families but also on the first responders, who walked onto the scene into a living nightmare. They displayed great professionalism and courage to get people out of the train as quickly as possible. Today our emergency services are well-equipped and supported in their response to tragedies, but perhaps that was not the case 40 years ago. Many first responders did not receive the type of support after the event that they may receive today in order for them to deal with those tragic consequences and with what they witnessed that day. We take that on board as well in our thanks to the first responders and acknowledge the services and support they did not receive in dealing with the consequences of the disaster that day and what they had to deal with.
Forty years ago the field of paramedicine was in its early years; little was known about crush injuries. The people on the ground that day learned from what they saw and passed on the lessons. They dealt with some horrific circumstances, many times on their own. Perhaps one of the greatest developments over the past 40 years has been in the way that we handle the emotional and psychological effects of disasters. Unfortunately, many families did not receive the support they needed at that time, and the support that the first responders should have received at that time was not forthcoming. We are deeply sorry about that. We thank all of you for reminding us about the lessons we needed to learn from that day. You carry the pain and the scars, but you have also taught us many lessons that we have since applied in the past 40 years.
The community and the first responders stepped up to help the victims in the immediate aftermath. But the lifelong impact on survivors and the unimaginable grief felt by those who lost a loved one on that dreadful January day have never been formally acknowledged. I accept that this acknowledgement is long overdue-40 years overdue. I hope today goes some way in expressing to you how deeply sorry we are, not only for your loss but also for the fact that it was inappropriately acknowledged. We are acknowledging your loss today. Hopefully, this will go towards making amends for what you have experienced not just on that day but over the past four decades.
On that day families endured anxious hour upon hour waiting for news of their loved ones. Tragically, some experienced enormous grief. Many families did not feel supported, and we apologise for that. We hope our words of acknowledgement and apology today give you some comfort and a sense of healing.
That is why 40 years on from that disaster we offer and express our sincere and deepest apologies to those whose lives were irrevocably changed at Granville that day. On behalf of the people and the Government of New South Wales, I express my genuine, heartfelt sorrow for the terrible trauma they suffered at the time and the devastating pain and loss that they have had to live with for many years. I have no doubt that the pain they feel today can be as raw and as real as it was the moment they first experienced their loss. Just as there is no way to make sense of lives lost in such an unthinkable way, there is nothing we can do to take away the pain. But we hope the apology today goes some way to acknowledging their loss and supporting them into the future.
Yesterday I met with the secretary of the Granville Train Disaster Association, Meredith Knight, who is in the gallery today. I first came into contact with Meredith in 2013 when I was the Minister for Transport and attended the ceremony commemorating the train disaster that January. She told me her family circumstances. She lost her father when she was just 15. I thank Meredith for sharing her story with me that day; it has had a lasting effect on me. I acknowledge the impact Meredith has had on bringing today's apology before the Parliament.
I acknowledge Barry Gobbe, who is also in the gallery. Barry was one of the first responders on the day of the disaster. I spoke to Barry yesterday and he reminded me that when he turned up at the disaster scene there
was no other responder around and he dealt with what he could as best he could. Barry has published a number of books on the history of Granville and has taken time to support the families in the healing process. He has also been instrumental in bringing today's apology before the Parliament. They are just two of the many people who have been impacted by the train disaster.
After this formal apology we will acknowledge not only those in the gallery, the victims and their families, but also many of the first responders, who still suffer as a consequence of what they experienced 40 years ago. As I said at the beginning of my contribution, we cannot take away the pain people experienced and are still experiencing as a result of this tragic accident. We cannot take away the fact that they were not supported at the time of the tragedy, 40 years ago. I hope that today's apology goes some way to demonstrating that we understand the magnitude of their loss. We will do everything that we can to ensure that such loss is not suffered by anybody else in the future.
Mr LUKE FOLEY ( Auburn ) ( 10:22 ): On behalf of the Opposition I speak in support of the Premier's motion on the Granville train disaster, which occurred on Tuesday 18 January 1977. The Granville rail disaster remains our nation's worst single post-war accident. Eighty-three men, women and children and, it turns out, an unborn child did not survive the accident. We rightly mark the passing every January at the spot where the accident happened when we toss roses onto the unforgiving steel tracks.
It has been four decades since the eight crowded carriages left the rails almost two hours into the journey from the Blue Mountains. We have to imagine the scene that morning, the morning of a blazing hot mid-summer's day during the school holidays. Some of the people were on their way to work, playing cards or board games on a train from the Blue Mountains. A minute out of Parramatta the train slowed from the authorised 80 kilometres an hour on the left-hand curve. A track fastening was loose, allowing the leading right-hand wheel to come off the track. Derailed train 108 hit the supports of the Bold Street bridge. The bridge itself had not been well constructed. To make it level, an extra 200 tonnes of concrete had been added. We can imagine the impact; in less than 10 seconds the bridge collapsed onto the wooden train carriages. Half the passengers in two of those carriages died instantly.
One woman lost her stepmother, her father and her two little girls. We can understand why she says that she has thought about them at some time every single day in the past 40 years. She often wonders about the lives they could have led. Of course, time has also not erased the hurt of those who were injured and survived the day. One survived after losing a leg on her first train journey to work. She was saved by a police officer who crawled through the wreckage. The police officer thought he had detected a pulse; others had thought she was dead. There is an old saying that adversity introduces us to ourselves.
On that morning we found, not for the first and not for the last time, that our emergency services workers and volunteers have the most compassionate hearts and extraordinary determination. Rescuer after rescuer crawled through the crumpled metal and wreckage-splintered wood, jagged concrete-on a blazing hot midsummer's day to find the dead and to rescue the living. People were in agony, some struggling for their last breath amidst the twisted wreckage. Rescuers were naturally fearful for their own lives, but they just kept going. They carried on because that is what they do. I met several of them at the fortieth anniversary this January.
Michael "Scotty" McInally arrived at the scene and stayed for 17 hours. He spent a lot of time with one trapped victim, one of the last victims to be taken out of the wreckage alive. But the man died three days later and left behind a wife and four-year-old daughter. Scotty told me he has not been able to get on a train since. I also met Margaret Warby, who was a theatre sister at the Parramatta hospital that day. She spent hours clambering around the crushed carriages tending to the injured and the trapped. She was there for more than 12 hours, having refused to leave. She was later awarded the Queen's Medal for Gallantry for her services that day.
Of course, for many of the survivors and relatives Granville has been, despite the immensity of the tragedy, scandalously neglected in many ways. Today we as a parliament go some small way to redressing that neglect. All of us are sincere in that; all of us are genuine. We not only have compassion for what survivors and relatives have endured but genuinely hope that this apology gives them some small measure of comfort. The survivors of Granville have lived with their injuries and the trauma for four decades. They have lived with lifelong grief. Especially, but not only, on anniversaries they still weep. Every fatality was a loss; every life was meaningful; the possibilities of each life were infinite. Every year in January we gather to pray in an attempt to comfort those who survived and the relatives of those who did not, but until today we have not apologised to them.
The Premier at the time was Neville Wran, in the early months of his premiership. I know that he went to the scene of the disaster, but that was not widely known because he asked journalists not to mention that he was there. The focus was rightly kept on the rescue. The then Premier was determined to ensure that the rescuers had whatever they needed. On the day, there were 250 police at the accident site. They struggled to hold back a crowd 5,000 strong. The last body was not removed from the wreckage until the afternoon of the next day.
The bitter lessons learnt that morning were absorbed by our emergency services, which changed and improved their procedures for future tragedies. Many of them worked tirelessly through fatigue and leaking gas for approximately 30 hours-holding the hands of those who were dying, guiding a priest through the rubble to give the last rites to the dying. Their commitment was genuinely heroic. Every one of the 83 victims had relatives, and this Parliament today, finally, is apologising to each and all of them.
Granville will never be just another stop on the line. I say to all members: If you have a moment sometime, look up the list of the names of those who died that morning. You can find it at Granville; you can find it online. Read the list slowly. I think they will then appreciate the enormity and scale of this tragedy and why we are apologising today. Every name on that monument at Granville represents a human life-a person possessed of inherent human dignity who, on the morning of 18 January 1977, was imbued with hope, ambition and joy. Since then they have been resting in peace, and they will be forever remembered. To the victims, their loved ones and all those who assisted on the day, the Parliament of New South
Wales apologise to you for what you have been through.
Mr ANDREW CONSTANCE ( Bega-Minister for Transport and Infrastructure) (10:31:4): I also welcome those in the gallery, particularly Barry and Meredith, whom I have come to know well recently and whom I thank for what they have done for the Granville Train Disaster Association. I stand in this place, more than four decades from that terrible day in Granville, to say sorry to those who lost their life, to those who still bear the scars of that day and to all the loved ones whose lives have never been the same since. An apology in this place is not just a set of words. Today the people of New South Wales embrace you all and say how sorry we are for what occurred on that devastating and unimaginable day 40 years ago.
As Minister for Transport, I know our responsibility to maintain safety on our transport system is paramount and cannot be forgotten. You cannot forget, so we must never forget. We must recognise the lasting impacts the Granville train disaster had and still has on those involved. These incidents have long-lasting impacts not only on the body but also on the human psyche. Today is about those who lost their lives and those who have grieved over Granville, those who battled to save lives, those who struggled in silence, and those who were treated, in many cases, very poorly in the days and years that followed. Today is about finally saying sorry.
Most of us know about the disaster-the day when so many lives were cut short, the day that would become a horrible chapter not only in our State's history but also in that of our nation. Not long after the fortieth anniversary on that hot day in January earlier this year, I received a letter from a very kind and gentle man who lost his father in the disaster. I spoke to him on the phone. I will share with the House a bit of what he shared with me. It is a powerful letter which highlights the scale and the enduring nature of this tragedy. I was moved by the letter because it highlights that the families and survivors in particular were not given any psychological support after the disaster. I will quote part of the letter:
My father was 47 years of age at the time and had celebrated his 24th wedding anniversary with my mother the day before the accident.
My mother passed away in July 2015 aged 83. She spent 38 years in which a day did not pass that she did not miss and grieve for my father.
Although she was never formally diagnosed, it was quite apparent that Mum suffered from depressive symptoms and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for all those years. As have I.
I vividly recall my mother screaming and sobbing with distress during the nights (weeks, months and years) following the event. I cannot begin to describe to you how distressing this was (and the memory still is).
While obviously everybody's journey is different, that letter demonstrates what has occurred in terms of not providing support. The letter went on to note that perhaps one of the only good things to happen after this tragedy is that counselling support services are now recognised as essential following major disasters.
Unfortunately, this story is only one example of many which demonstrate the lasting impacts of Granville. Every person's story is different. I have heard stories of young boys who were jolted awake and raced through the night in police vehicles to be taken to the morgue to identify a loved one. A victim's son who was in a court hearing over compensation was asked by a lawyer: "What are you doing here? There is nothing in this for you." A letter from a man who helped in the rescue effort said: "I have carried the memories of what I saw that day in my head and my heart ever since."
Today we not only remember and face these stories; today we also right a wrong. I was truly saddened that this unimaginable grief, compounded by past mistakes, was never officially recognised in the Parliament of New South Wales. Today we stand here as leaders 40 years on, and to those who have had lasting impacts from the Granville train disaster, we say sorry. Meredith Knight, the secretary of the Granville Train Disaster Association, who lost her father in the tragedy, is here today. I am sure she will not mind me using her words:
… whilst the apology … can never fully ameliorate the errors of the past, I believe that a modicum of justice has finally been given to the 83 who lost their lives.
For the loss of 83 precious lives, we say sorry. For the lack of compassion and due care in the following days, weeks, months and years, we say sorry. As Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, let me say this comes from an genuine
place. I will finish with the words of another, again, in a letter I received after the fortieth anniversary. It reads:
Unfortunately, your apology cannot undo what has been done … The impacts of that day have echoed down through the last 40 years, like a tsunami that never ends.
For that too, we say sorry.
Ms JULIA FINN ( Granville ) ( 10:38 : 2 ): I join the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition and the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure in extending an apology to those who lost their lives, those who lost loved ones, those who were injured and those who were traumatised by their role in rescue efforts during the Granville train disaster, which is Australia's worst rail accident. On 18 January 1977 an eight-car passenger train derailed and collided with the Bold Street bridge, with the bridge collapsing on the third and fourth carriages, resulting in the deaths of 83 passengers and injuries to a further 213. It is a day no-one will forget. Everyone I know who lived in Granville then and still lives there today has a story to tell about where they were that day and the people they know who joined in the rescue efforts.
It is part of the collective memory of the people of Granville, as well as that of the survivors, the emergency services workers and volunteers, and the families of those affected, many of whom were traumatised for years by their experience that day. To them we offer our deep and sincere apologies. This is long overdue, and for that we also apologise.
The crowded eight-car commuter train left Mount Victoria for the city at 6.09 a.m. As it was approaching Granville railway station, it left the rails and hit a row of supports of the overhead Bold Street Bridge. The derailed engine and first two carriages passed the bridge, but the first carriage broke free from the other carriages. Carriage one was torn open when it collided with a severed mast beside the track, killing eight passengers. Less than 10 seconds later, with all its supports demolished, the 200-tonne concrete deck of the bridge collapsed onto the third and fourth carriages, crushing them and the passengers inside. Half of the passengers in those carriages were killed immediately, and several injured passengers were trapped in the train for hours with part of the bridge crushing their torso or limbs. Some had been conscious and talking to rescuers but died of crush syndrome soon after the weight was removed.
The community of Granville rallied to help those trapped in the wreckage, and for that all of us will be eternally grateful. Many people volunteered to assist; tradesmen brought their tools, and everyone did what they could. One such volunteer was Father Les Campion, who rushed from Holy Trinity Parish Church. He was the first religious minister to arrive, and he provided pastoral care on the scene to the many injured victims, including those trapped in the wreckage. In following years, Father Campion blessed the 83 roses laid at the scene on 18 January each year to remember the victims until he passed away. Every year the people of Granville join these commemorations. The Granville memorial wall contains the names of everyone killed in the disaster and ensures that they are not nameless people of the past. John Hennessey organised the commemoration for many years and he was instrumental in raising funds for the original memorial. He passed away last year, but I acknowledge his contribution and also that of the Granville Train Disaster Association and Cumberland Council in upgrading the memorial this year.
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the Granville train disaster, and it is a fitting occasion on which to offer this long overdue apology. While the Premier of the day, Neville Wran, wrote to the families of the deceased and personally apologised, it is fitting that the Parliament as a whole apologises for the loss of life and the lack of support offered to those deeply traumatised by the accident and the situation that gave rise to it. The apology reflects the responsibility of the New South Wales Government for rail maintenance and safety, which were woefully inadequate over many years leading up to the accident. Division Engineers warned in a letter of the dangers of a derailment in November 1975, stating that maintenance policies were "in need of urgent major reassessment". On the 8.10 a.m. train from Mount Victoria that day, according to Barry Gobbe, there was a faulty leading wheel which had been identified months earlier but which had not been replaced. It was left on to run for another 50,000 kilometres until it left the loose track that day, causing the derailment. It certainly was not the case that the drivers or staff were in any way responsible, as early reports had indicated. They, too, are survivors and they, too, deserve our apologies.
The community of survivors, rescuers and the families of those who lost their lives in the Granville train disaster share a special bond. Over time, many of them have come to know one another well, sharing the same grief and trauma. In recent years they have come together more frequently. Through their support for each other they have been able to bring others into their fold, with a number of survivors and those who lost their loved ones attending the commemoration for the first time this year. It has been too painful for many of them before now. This year I was touched to meet Paul Touzell, one of the survivors, and his good friend Noel Boys, who was with the ambulance service and was his rescuer that day. Paul was fortunate that his usual seat on the train was taken. He was standing when the bridge fell on his carriage and was trapped and injured. His injuries would have been worse had he been sitting. The person who sat in Paul's usual seat was killed. Paul was the first person treated at the scene. He met Noel that day, and through this awful traumatic experience they have become friends, forging a bond that has lasted 40 years.
This year, for the first time, the survivors group organised the commemoration. They did a wonderful job, led by Barry Gobbe, the first ambulance officer on the scene, and Meredith Knight, who lost her father that day. It was a touching tribute, commencing with the names of the deceased being read out at 8.10 a.m., followed by a memorial service at St Marks Church and a formal memorial service at the memorial hall. They have campaigned for this apology, and it is fitting that today the New South Wales Parliament comes together to do so.
The SPEAKER: The question is that the motion of the Premier be agreed to. I ask members to carry the motion by standing in their places for a minute's silence.
Members and officers of the House stood in their places as a mark of respect.
Motion agreed to.