Report found no height clearance signs were on the bridge

By Fintan Lambe

Published 29/12/2015 | 00:00

THE Minister for Transport and Power ordered that an inquiry into the Gorey rail disaster on December 31, 1975, would be conducted by engineer JV Feehan.

His report was published in July 1977. He inspected the site on the day of the crash, and spoke to people at the site and in the months afterwards.

He found that the 08.05 hours Rosslare Harbour to Dublin passenger train was derailed at Clogh Bridge at around 9.28 a.m., resulting in four passengers and one CIE employee being killed. A further 39 passengers and four CIE employees received injuries of varying severity.

Weather conditions were dull and overcast, and it was raining. The bridge was on a straight section of track on top of an embankment. The train consisted of a locomotive and eight vehicles. Some 94 passengers were on board.

In his report, he stated that when they reached the bridge, the locomotive and the five leading vehicles crossed over the public road and were derailed.

'The locomotive came to rest at the toe of the embankment,' the report reads. 'The three leading vehicles were completely wrecked. The fourth and fifth vehicles were badly damaged. The sixth vehicle was partly derailed, the rearmost two vehicles remained on the rails.'

Giving evidence for CIE, Kevin Lynch SC said that the 'derailment occurred approximately two minutes after the bridge had been destroyed by a tractor-drawn low loader which was carrying a mechanical excavator from east to west along the public road which passed under Cain Bridge.'

He said that evidence would establish that a portion of the excavator struck the bridge, dislodging both wrought iron girders, and leaving the actual rails unsupported and out of alignment. The girder on the east side of the track was fractured and the girder on the west side of the track was carried for distance of 42 feet along the public road.

There were no signs on or before the bridge to indicate the clearance height underneath. At the time, clearance in some places had been reduced from the original 15 feet, to 13 feet 10 inches.

CIE was conscious at the time of increasingly higher loads travelling on roads and placed regular warning notices in national newspapers. The company said it had no power to interfere with the road surface under railway bridges, nor had it the power to erect advance warning signs for bridges with restricted clearances.

It said it could erect signs on the bridges themselves and since 1974 was engaged in a programme of erecting such notices on bridge with priority being given to national primary and secondary roads.

Train driver Joseph O'Neill told the inquiry the train was travelling at approx 55 mph as it approached the bridge. He sounded the hooter for an accommodation crossing before the bridge. When the train was about 400 yards from the bridge, he saw a man standing beside the track, 75 to 100 yards ahead, waving his hands and apparently trying to stop the train.

Driver O'Neill sounded the hooter and applied both brakes. The report says 'he next noticed the top of a yellow machine which he thought might be about to come up the side of the embankment and cross the line.'

'Driver O'Neill then saw that the two rails and certain parts of the bridge structure were displaced and he knew that his train would be derailed. He continued to apply both brakes. He estimated the train's speed as it reached the bridge to between 20 to 30 mph.

Christy Hill told the inquiry he was at his father's house about 150 yards from the bridge, and he saw the low loader and excavator travelling towards the bridge. He heard a bang and went to investigate.

He told the inquiry that 'he met a man driving a car whom he believed to be the driver of the excavator which was on the low loader.

'This man told him the bridge was down. He then heard the train hooter and he immediately ran across a field to signal the train to stop. When he reached the track at a point about 200 yards from the bridge, the train which was travelling from the Ferns direction was about 50 to 60 yards away. He signalled to the driver. He was satisfied from the squeaking sounds that the train driver applied his brakes immediately. Mr Hill estimated the time between his hearing the bang and signalling to the train driver to be about one and a half minutes.'

Garda Sergeant Con French told the inquiry that after getting a phone message, he went to the accident site, arriving at around 9.45 a.m. He gave evidence of speaking to the driver of the low loader unit, and that after the accident, the excavator was projecting over the left-hand side of the low loader.

Area Rail Manager J Leonard told the inquiry that when he visited the site on January 6, he met by chance the driver of the tractor who told him that immediately after the accident happened, he got out of the tractor and seeing that the bridge was badly damaged he asked the excavator driver to call Ferns and Gorey. The tractor driver also said that the bridge was 'rotten through' and he was unfortunate to be the first to damage it.

An expert who examined the bridge said the bridge metal work was generally sound, with some corrosion on the inside of the bottom plate of both girders. Another engineer said the overall effect of the local corrosion was small. He was satisfied the bridge girders and abutments were structurally sound.

In its conclusions, the report noted that there were no signs or notices either on the bridge or on the approach road to advise users of the clearance. It recommended that such signs be erected on all railway over-bridges. It added that all metal bridges should be examined frequently for evidence of corrosion, and blocked drainage holes, and all bridges should be inspected regularly for signs that they may have been struck by road vehicles.

The report concluded that the prompt action of Mr Hill, in trying to warn the train driver before his train reached Cain Bridge, was very commendable.

Wexford People

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