By Mitchell Clarke
A Pakenham couple is grateful to have walked from a horror train derailment which tragically claimed the life of two people.
Richard and Bev Sherman were travelling on board the XPT service from Sydney when the train derailed at Wallan on Thursday 20 February, about 7.45pm.
The couple had been enjoying a week-long holiday in Sydney for Bev’s birthday and were heading home to Southern Cross Station when tragedy struck.
“We were going reasonably fast – I’d say about 100 kilometres – only reason I know that is because at one stage we were next to the Hume and we were keeping up with cars,” Mr Sherman recalled.
“We were just going along and all of a sudden there was a bang – almost like a tyre going off and then the whole thing moved sideways.
“We got thrown forward into our seats and down into the alcove and I knew immediately that it had gone off the rails.”
The couple, who were seated at the back of the second carriage, said they realised the severity of the incident “pretty much instantly”.
They said the carriage went “deathly silent” and became filled with dust as it came to rest on a 30 to 40 degree angle.
“People were lying on seats and there was an elderly guy who was sitting on the toilet that cut his head when it happened,” Mr Sherman said.
“We basically got up and looked around, asked if everyone was ok before we went to the back of the carriage and tried to open the doors.
“We knew there could possibly be more trains coming so we jumped out and helped people as they got up to make their way off the train.
“One of the staff members asked us ‘who told you to leave the train’, so we said ‘common sense told us to leave the train’.”
It’s understood 153 passengers and five crew members were on board the XPT service at the time.
An emergency triage area was established at a nearby BP service station to treat injured passengers.
The driver, a 54-year-old ACT man, and the train pilot, a 49-year-old Castlemaine woman, sadly died at the scene.
Ambulance Victoria confirmed 12 people were transported to hospital – the most serious, a man in his 60s taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in a stable condition with an upper body injury.
Victoria Police will investigate the cause of the incident in conjunction with National Rail Safety Regulator, Australian Transport Safety Bureau and WorkSafe.
Mr Sherman, an employee at Star News Group, said he didn’t feel that the train was going “unusually fast” and said it was “hard to speculate” as to exactly what happened, but said the service was running two hours behind schedule.
“It stopped a number of times for whatever reasons, there were some problems with signals and it was running late so staff apologised over the speaker a few times,” he said.
“A staff member said ‘we are as frustrated as you are’ and said ‘hopefully nothing else happens’ – that message was about 10 minutes before the crash.”
The couple, who originally planned to get the V-Line service from Southern Cross to Pakenham, said they were grateful they were ok.
“We’re just fortunate that we weren’t hurt especially when you see the degree of impact,” he said.
“They’re calling it a derailment but it was a crash really, the engine tipped on its side so it was quite major accident.”