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1990, May 6, Cowan rail emergency

Six people were killed, including the driver of a Sydney-bound Inter City commuter train, when it smashed into the rear of a stalled chartered steam train. The 3801 locomotive, also on the Sydney line, had stopped on the rise from the Hawkesbury River & was building up steam to get up the grade (Cowan Bank) when the Inter City emerged from Boronia tunnel near Brooklyn and collided with 3801.

The accident happened on the main Sydney-Newcastle line, 5km south of the Brooklyn Bridge, between the Hawkesbury River & the town of Cowan. Ninety-nine people were injured, 11 seriously. The front carriage of the 4-carriage Sydney train was derailed in the accident, with the line closed to rail services for a day. An interim ban was placed on the use of steam locomotives on the NSW railway system.

A coronial inquiry found that a railway signal fault was caused by sand dumped on the rail by the driver of 3801 as the train went into a violent wheel-spin as it approached the Boronia tunnel. A handbrake in one of the steam train's carriages may have been partially applied, the inquiry found, to cause the train slowing up. About one train length outside the tunnel, the driver opened the valve to full throttle & the steam train pulled to a complete stop & more sand was applied to the rails.

While 3801 was attempting to climb the hill, the inter-urban train was stopped at a red signal on the other side of the tunnel. The lights kept fluctuating from red to green because of sand on the rails. Eventually the lights stayed permanently on the green & the inter-urban train moved forward through the tunnel, when the crash with 3801 occurred.

The force of the impact destroyed the last utting of the historic train, where 4 fatalities utting, and demolished the front carriage of the inter-urban, killing the driver and a companion in the cabin. It pushed steam engine 3801 forward 12 metres and broke the couplings between 3801 and its consist.

Those involved in the incident were cleared of blame, however, he said that although the signals had tested OK, the sand applied to the line by 3801 MAY have caused them to behave incorrectly on the day.
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