On January 18, 36 years ago, Michael Runsey found himself a seat on the fateful fourth carriage of the 6.09 train leaving Mount Victoria to Sydney.
“I’ll never forget it,” Mr Runsey, 69, said. “I couldn’t get back on a train for 25 years.”
Mr Runsey was one of about 250 survivors, relatives, rescuers and dignitaries connected with the Granville train disaster who gathered for the anniversary at the crash site last week.
The packed train derailed and crashed as it approached Granville station at 8.10am on January 18, 1977 . It careered along for 46 metres before striking the supports of the Bold Street Bridge which collapsed onto carriages three and four, trapping passengers inside.
Eighty-three people died and 210 were injured in the crash which a report found was caused by the poor condition of the track. Rescuers worked for days to pull survivors and the dead from the wreckage.
“A lot of people had chest and head injuries from falling forward,” Mr Runsey, of Guilford, said.
“We were all sitting there waiting, then a few minutes later the bridge came down. The front part of the roof fell in. I remember all the confusion, those that could jump down off the red rattler did.”
The Gazette’s Facebook page was full of posts over the weekend about the rail disaster.
Sylvia Mincarelli of Sydney remembers the Granville crash “very clearly”.
“I won’t forget it as long as I live. My sister was killed that tragic day. My cousin, twin sister and I drove to the site asking anyone we could find to see if they had information about her and each one said check the hospitals.
“We did not find out anything until the following morning when we received a phone call saying we need to go to Glebe morgue to identify her body.”
It was the third year Blue Mountains Mayor Daniel Myles represented the community, alongside RFS Katoomba deputy captain Bob Kemnitz, tackling stifling 46 degree heat to lay wreaths at the memorial across from the disaster site.
Granville Memorial Trust president John Hennessey, who organised the memorial stone near the railway station, said he had been told by some to forget Australia’s worst rail tragedy.
“To those who say ‘Move on John, forget it,’ that’s like saying forget Anzac Day, those people will not be forgotten as long as I live.”
For Mr Runsey, who stayed with the Salvation Army for 15 hours after the crash giving out tea and biscuits, the incident was a wake-up call to change his life. Soon after, he left his job as a French Polisher and switched to helping the disabled and the homeless.
“I felt like I had been given a second chance at life.”
Mr Runsey said he returns every year on the anniversary “to be faithful to those that have died”.
“A safety valve kicked in that day.
“It’s hard to explain ... I’ll be alright,” he added, quietly weeping.