Six hundred passengers had amazing escapes from death or serious injury when two expresses crashed head-on at Serviceton Station just before 3 a.m. yesterday.
The locomotive crews leaped from their cabins, but one of the firemen, Keith Hosking, 21, single, of Dimboola, was crushed to death as his engine was hurled to its side beside the line.
Passengers in the express from Adelaide told dramatic stories of the accident when they arrived in Melbourne last night.
The Melbourne bound express, which was 80 minutes late, was standing at Serviceton Station when the Adelaide bound express ran into it.
Serviceton is a changeover station for engines on the interstate route.
In the early morning quiet of a thick fog, the crews of the two locomotives of the Melbourne express were about to continue the journey when they heard the ominous onrush of another train coming their way.
They blew blast after blast on the whistles.
When the leading engine of the oncoming express hit the leading stationary engine at about 45 miles an hour, each man thought he was taking his last breath.
At the last minute they jumped and huddled against the embankment opposite the station platform.
To their amazement the wreckage – bits of the permanent way, torn pieces of steel from engines, and other burning oil – flew the other way.
The men concerned were drivers S. Richards and S. Janetzki and firemen W. Fraser and J. Hubbard.
Keith Hosking was fireman in the leading engine of the west bound train.
His father died recently and his closest relatives were his widowed mother and his sister.
The force of the impact was so great that his engine was, in the words of an eyewitness, tossed over an embankment into an adjoining paddock.
The oil-fired leading engine of the Melbourne bound train caught fire when leaking oil ignited.
The engine fiercely until 6 a.m. in spite of the efforts of the Nhill and Kaniva fire brigades to put it out.
Passengers interviewed last night agreed the only factors that saved the accident from being more serious were that one engine was derailed and the mail vans were behind the engine.
If the vans had not been there to take the brunt of the impact, many carriages would have been telescoped and casualties would have been high.
When the crash occurred R. J. Jamieson said all those in his compartment were asleep.
There was no panic, the only danger being from luggage which had been hurled from the racks.
He added: “When I work up, bags were flying everywhere.”
“Strewn with Wreckage”
Speaking from Kaniva last night, Mr Jay Potts, who was on the scene of the crash within an hour of its occurrence, gave a graphic account of what he saw.
He said: “When I arrived at Serviceton, the permanent way was strewn with the wreckage of the four engines. You have no idea of the mess. The rails were twisted like bits of paper.
“One Melbourne bound engine was ablaze. I wondered why there had not been a real disaster to human life. I still that it a miracle that only one person was killed.
“The station at Serviceton was crowded with passengers from both trains. They were calm and thankful for their escape.
“I talked to a youngster in the Melbourne bound train. She was asleep when the crash came.
“She was bruised. She said she was awakened when heavy suitcases crashed upon her.
“She told me her sister was lucky. The cases missed her and she slept through it all.”
Mr Potts continued. “I mixed among the passengers on the station. What impressed me was their calmness.
“Among the Melbourne bound express were several permanent Army men who were returning to the Eastern States from leave in Western Australia. There were also aboard many men of the R.A.A.F. Their calmness must have affected the others.
Mails from South Australia and Western Australia due in Melbourne yesterday morning, are not expected to arrive until late today because of the railway accident. The mail vans were badly damaged.
Mails from eastern States to South Australia and Western Australia will also be delayed.