SERIOUS LOSS OF
OVER 40 PASSENGERS
TWO MEN ROASTED TO
Yesterday afternoon the 5.40 express from Melbourne to Brighton and the 5.30 ordinary train carne into collision near the Windsor station. The accident arose from a neglect of the regulations of the blocking system in some particular, but on whose shoulders the blame rests will only be definitely known when the ofiicial inquiry take place. All that is authoritively known at present is that the disaster occurred through the ex- press overtaking the ordinary train, which had become disabled owing to the con- tinuous brake getting out of order. The express train instead of being stopped by danger signals sped on, and telescoped the rear of the ordinary train. Whether the danger signals were set up, or, if being exhibited, they were disregarded by the enginedriver of the express is the question that remains to be determined. The in- formation that was to be gleaned in all the horror and confusion of the catastrophe points to the conclusion that two errors were committed—one in connection with the semaphore signals, and another by the enginedriver who was killed, together with his fireman, but this theory must be received with caution until it is verified by later and more authentic particulars. But it is indis-
putable that someone blundered, and the blunder has added another to the already too long list of railway accidents attended with loss of life which have occurred in this colony. Once more life has been lost and a scene of horrible devastation piled up on a Victorian railway line reproducing all the ghastly features of the Jolimont, Box-hill,
and Little River calamities.
The circumstances leading up to the acci- dent can be clearly explained in a few words. The ordinary train left at the usual time, carry-
ing a large number ol passengers, most of whom were dropped at the stations between
Melbourne and Prahran. The train is sup- posed to be protected by the block system, the vital principle of which is that if the conditions under which the system is worked are observed a clear section shall inter- vene between the ordinary train, which goes out of the Flinders street station with 10 minutes' start and the express. The express runs as an express to Windsor without a
break-unless in case of accident-when it becomes an ordinary train and stops at the remaining stations, consequently at the time of the collision the express was very full of passengers for comparitively distant destinations, while the ordinary train had nearly emptied itself on the way to Prahran.
In its rapid run in the wake of the ordinary train the latter is protected by semaphore lights which show red to the express if, from any cause it is gaining dangerously, while the discs are of clear glass exhibiting a white light if the proper interval is being preserved. This system, which is more fully described by Mr. Speight in another column, is so perfect that at the part of the line at which the accident occurred two discs, which are worked independently of each other have to show "line clear" before the express is justified in proceeding. In other words two men have to make a mistake con- cerning a portion of line not more than three- quarters of a mile long before one train can overlap the other. It is to be feared that the double error was perpetrated last night co-incidently, and on this hypothesis the fallibility of all human measures for the prevention of accidents is forcibly shown. What is meant by this is-assuming that the unproved deductions of experts as to the cause of the accident are trustworthy—that it was necessary for Prahran to erroneously
hoist the "line clear" signal, and that
the enginedriver was blind to the red danger light shown him by Windsor. It seems strange indeed that the enginedriver —Maskell—who only a few weeks ago re- ceived a special reward of £5 for conspicuous watchfulness and intelligence in averting an accident (which was imminent owing to the disregard of a signal by another driver) should have run his train blindly to destruc- tion in the face of the Windsor red light. Yet, on the other hand, the Windsor signal-
man had the disabled ordinary train almost underneath his box, on the face of which it appears incredible that he should, by showing the white disc, have invited the express to rush on to the collision which occurred. The truth can only be satiisfactorily ascertained when an oflicial and searching investigation is prosecuted, but the one thing certain is that an oversight amounting almost to a crime remains to be sheeted home to the perpe-
trator whoever he may be, and the responsi- bility is divided between very few persons.
Either the signalmen at Prahran or the Windsor stations or the driver of the express
must have been severely culpable.
The tragedy was swiftly enacted. The hose pipe of the steam brake of the ordinary train broke when the train was within 200 or 300 yards of the Windsor station and brought the train to a standstill by clenching down on the wheels. In this way the continuous brake always announces its failure, so that reliance upon a broken brake may not lead the train into danger. The guard got down to examine the gear and see whether any-
thing could be done to get the train to its destination ; probably he relied upon the semaphore protecting the train from the express which was thundering behind. If the semaphore would not protect the train, a worse place for a collision cannot be imagined. The bogged carriages were lying just around the bend of a sharp curve and at the bottom of a deep cutting. The express train could not see the ordinary train more than a train's length ahead owing to the bend which lies just beyond the High street bridge, and it came on in fancied security undiminished speed. The crash was only seen to be in- evitable immediately before it occurred. Some of the passengers escaped it by jump- ing out ol the stationary train in the nick of time, but others, having even less warning, kept their seats. The advancing engine cut into the guard's van of the ordinary train and three of the carriages, smashing them to pieces. The driver only had time to put on the steam brake, which materially checked the speed of the train as it rounded the curve before he and the fireman were killed, together with three passengers of the crushed train. There were others badly wounded. The engine in telescoping the rear part
of the ordinary train was nearly covered with the debrís, which ran up into a rude form of a cone. The wreck was complete. The ripping, crushing momentum of the engine was heralded only by the usual long whistle with which express trains usually announce their approach to a Station, and which, on this occasion, only seemed to show that the unfortunate driver was quite aware that he was speeding to de- struction. In the flash of time in which he realised his danger he manfully squeezed on the brake with a force that short, though the distance was that had yet to be traversed, saved the express train. The experience of Mr. Speight, chairman of Railway Com- missioners, who was riding in the van just behind the engine, is emphatic on the point, and Maskell's promptitude and pre- sence of mind has excited in Mr. Speight's mind on unusual degree of commiseration for his death. To the driver's cool celerity as he faced his death, Mr. Speight, in his opinion, owes his life, and so do many others. As it was, the force of the impact was greatly weakened, and as the ordinary train was not heavily laden the mischief was much lessened.
But when hearing the loud smashing noise, people hurried to the spot what they saw was very frightful. The fore part of the express train and the hinder vehicles of the other, were broken to fragments, and in- extricably locked in most fantastic shapes. There was a huge mound of timber and ironwork which but for the presence of the remainder of the trains, would not have been recognised as the re- mains of what had been rolling stock a moment before. Those who have seen the huge masses of driftwood of all sizes which the storm waters of the Murray bring down and jam together in one place can form some conception of the jumbled maze of debris which blocked the line. But the care of the wounded, and the re- covery of the dead was the first duty, and willing hands in plenty were found ready to do their utmost in this work. The host of helpers was swelled by the fireman of the city of Prahran, the Windsor, and the South Yarra brigades, who came quickly, in response to the peal of the fire bells which sounded their alarm. Presently the scene was lit up by beacon fires, fed with the broken woodwork of the brake van and carriages. The fires glowed on the side of the embankment and the fuel being only too abundant, the scene was as light as day. The flames threw a weird, ruddy light upon the pale faces ot the wounded. distorted with pain who were tenderly removed and brought into strong relief the closely packed phalanx of curious sightseers who hemmed in the embankment on both sides, and strove to keep a footing on the steep inclines, which were soaked with rain. In the midst of the scene of suffering which had such striking lights and shadows, it was a sorry sight to see a lady lifted out of the wreck sorely hurt and when Mr. E. S. Parkes, superintendent of the Bank of Australasia, was next discovered, a murmur of sympathy ran through the crowd. Meanwhile a large band of helpers was working zealously, inspired with the hope that they were saving life, to remove the cumbrous mass of woodwork which over- hung the engine of the express train, which was known to contain the devoted driver and his fireman, who had done the right thing even in the very jaws of death to save imperilled lives. It was not long betore the "cob" of the engine was so
far disentombed as to reveal what it con- tained, and then the worst fears of those who fain would have succoured the living were realised. There side by side, half standing, the driver and his faithful ally the fireman had died at the post of duty.
They were distorted, burned, and begrimed, their beards singed, and the flesh peeling from their faces, the life crushed out of them relentlessly by the superabundant weight of wreckage.
The clearing of the line was a tedious and laborious task. Those who saw it under the strong flickering light of the flames of the bonfire will not soon forget how lurid was the scene. It is difficult to convey on paper the activity, the cheerfulness of the bands of volunteers, the bustle, yet the well-ordered method of the operations. The tangled mess had to be attacked in details; the fires of the still heated boiler had to be subdued with the hose of the firemen to save valuable property of the Railway department, the right end of the confuse skein had to be seized in order to produce order out of chaos in the shortest possible time. If there had been anything well directed energy, and if the volunteers it had been supplanted by any less potent auxiliaries is then Inspector Thompson's regular “breaking down gang” of railway men, traffic would not have been restored till this morning, whereas trains were running two Brightened by a quarter to 9 o'clock, or rather less than three hours after the catastrophe occurred. There was strength regulated by intelligent oversight, and hence very quickly the pyramid broken rolling stock, which was tightly locked almost into a solid mass, gradually succumb to. The hauling power of myriads of brawny arms was assisted by the much greater strength of one of the powerful goods trains locomotives, which nothing could resist, and which speedily separated the en-
tanglements of wood and iron, closely knit together by the force of the collision, into portable units, which were more or less easily rolled to the side of the permanent why it, and so put beyond interrupting traffic. A large body of police heartily co-operated in all these efforts to make good as far as possible the damage that had been sustained, but it is to be regretted that at least in one case zeal entirely outran dis- cretion. When a constable is so ignorant as to order the chairman of the Railway Com- missioners from the scene of his duty, even when that gentleman is made known to the officious policeman, it is surely time for Chief Commissioner Chomley to administer a rebuke. And the constable in ques- tion surely still more exceeded his duty when he told Mr. Speight that because the senior commissioner of rail- ways declined to be ordered from the scene of his duty, he (the constable) would not ask any intruder on the permanent way to cease obstructing the workers.
(.nulliill), uni vei) quickl) considering how laborious was the process of clearing the line, the work was accomplished. The sightseers saw less and less to keep them from their homes, the workers saw nearer and nearer to the termination of their arduous efforts. The light faded out of the beacons which were not fed fresh; the crowd gradually dispersed; the iron parallels off the railway track became more and more clearly defined and less cumbered ; the shouting, the bustle, and the rush gradually subsided as the shadows of the erstwhile brightly illuminated fatal scene grew more dense, and then all was quiet again except for the whirr and rattle of the trains which once more sped over the permanent way. Then the curtain may be said to have fallen upon the first act of another sensational railway drama in Victoria, which unhappily is drawn from real life.
Occurring as it did at the most busy por- tion today, when business men are returning in thousands from the city to the suburbs, and continuing throughout the hour during which large numbers flock in to the places of amusement in town, the block in the traffic occasioned vast inconvenience.
Between 35 and 40 trains were stopped be- tween the time of the collision and the resump- tion of traffic. Many hundreds of persons avail themselves of the Caulfield line service to reach South Yarra, and the conges- tion of traffic on that line taxed the accom- modation very severely. A strange spectacle was to be seen at the Richmond station, where the one set of rails usually so busy at this time were still and vital, while on the centre line trains densely crowded, and to which entrance was at times only to be gained by a struggle, carried most of the traffic of the two lines. One or two ambulance trains passing through added to the un- wonted features off the scene at this point, and it was easily to be seen, between the hours of six and eight, that some very extraordi-
nary disarrangement of the traffic had taken place.
Dr. G. Fetherston, of Prahran, was sent for immediately after the accident occurred, and he and Dr. H. E. Williams hurried to the scene of the collision, and attended to the injuries of the wounded. The Acting- Minister of Defence, Mr. Bell, was untiring in his exertions to extricate the injured from amongst the debris, and carry them out of the cutting, and those passengers who wero uninjured also lent a willing hand.