18 January 1977

Granville Train Disaster

 

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The morning commuter train was packed with passengers as it headed from the Blue Mountains to Sydney Central Station on January 18th 1977. As it approached the suburb of Granville, the train left the rails and smashed into the pillars supporting the road bridge above. The first carriage was torn apart, killing eight passengers, while the third and fourth carriages came to rest under the weakened bridge. Seconds later, the bridge and several motor vehicles collapsed onto the carriages, crushing them and the people inside. Many passengers were trapped for hours, pinned down by twisted metal and concrete as rescue teams worked to save them. Some were conscious during the rescue but died from their injuries soon after the weight was lifted.

 

The rescue teams worked for the next 48 hours in dangerous conditions, with a constant risk of explosions, as the huge slabs of concrete continued to move and settle. They squeezed into narrow spaces, often working in darkness with little air, crawling through the carriages to reach survivors. Later in the day, cranes carefully lifted portions of the bridge while railway sleepers were pushed underneath to form a tunnel.

 

In all, 83 people were killed, more than 210 injured, and innumerable others affected. An inquiry found the accident had resulted from the bad condition of track fastening where the train derailed.

Despite the fact that awareness of psychosocial response to disaster was in its infancy, an innovative counselling and support operation, led by psychiatrist Beverley Raphael, was implemented by the NSW Health Department. Professor Raphael also conducted a landmark research study to document the psychological impact of the Granville rail disaster.

 

Although most of those involved recovered with the help of caring family and friends, many surviving passengers and rescue workers developed significant mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and alcohol abuse following their experiences. We now understand more about the prevention, early recognition, and treatment of these posttraumatic mental health conditions. It is essential that survivors of such incidents feel confident about asking for help when required, and that high quality evidence-based care is readily available to those in need.