Early train incidents at New Lynn
By Lisa Truttman
Over the years since the railway line from New Lynn to Glen Eden was laid down in the late 1870s, it has changed. Before the trenching of New Lynn Station in 2008-2010, came the elimination of the level crossing at Titirangi Road from 1939 to 1940. This latter project also changed the appearance of the crossings over the streams that make up the Rewarewa Creek watershed, on either side of Titirangi Road. Today, we’d hardly know they were there.
Before the First World War, the two viaducts were still both visible, and were the scenes of two incidents from the early days of rail in New Lynn.
On Tuesday, 19 November 1912, a number of school children were playing in the scrub near the Titirangi Road crossing. One of them, Edward Dyer aged five or six, wandered onto the viaduct just above and west of Titirangi Road. Suddenly around the bend further up “Scroggy Hill” as that incline used to be known, a speeding train appeared. It was the train from Helensville, bound for the city. Terrified, young Edward fell across the rails, and clutched them tightly with fear, not knowing what else to do in his panic as the train came nearer.
But that day he was a very fortunate young boy. Another of the children nearby, Alexander Frederick Barron, aged 11, spotted what had happened, summed up what to do, and rushed onto the bridge. He scooped Edward up into his arms, and both of them leapt over the side into the scrub below, mere moments before the train passed above them.
It took a while for the greater community to become aware of the story. Perhaps the boys, fearful of the punishment for being so near a very dangerous place, kept quiet about it. But when John Gardner of the noted New Lynn brickmaking family approached the NZ Herald with the sum of 10s, as the start of a fund to reward Alexander for his heroism the following month, the story came out. At a special presentation at New Lynn School on 19 December, Alexander Barron was given an illuminated address, a copy of the Boys Own Annual from his schoolmates, a cheque for one guinea from John Bollard, the local MP, and a silver watch from John Gardner, inscribed: “Alexander Barron, for bravery, December. 1912, from a few admirers.” Early in 1913, Alexander was also awarded a bronze medal from the Royal Humane Society.
The remainder of his life was much more ordinary. He and his wife lived at Pt Chevalier during the 1920s to 1930s, but from the mid 1940s he was a farmer, living in Cliff View Drive, Green Bay. Barron Drive, so close to his home, may have been named after him and his family in the early 1960s. He died, still a resident at Green Bay, in 1976.
The other incident at the railway viaducts in New Lynn is a much more famous one, related in books and articles over the years.
On a foggy winter’s morning, Thursday 28 May 1913, a goods train from the city arrived at New Lynn Station. In those days, in order for the train to move onto a siding to keep the main line clear, it was necessary to go forward up the incline almost as far as Titirangi Road, then reverse back. Fog cut down visibility severely, and the rails were greasy and slippery. The driver of a passenger train from Helensville, rounding the bend and heading toward Titirangi Road, did not see the goods train that was still on the Rewarewa viaduct, and on the single line, just west of the road, until too late. The engines collided head on. Two of the passenger carriages telescoped and crumpled. The windows were blown out of the next two carriages behind them. It was fortunate that no one died, out of over 100 passengers aboard, but there were a number of injuries, including among the train crews involved. One passenger, a Mr E H Stone, remained in a critical condition for weeks, his chest badly crushed.
Locals from New Lynn and Henderson demanded a ministerial enquiry into how the accident happened. The Railways Minister at the time, William Herbert Herries, said that there needed to be a departmental enquiry first before he could instigate a ministerial one. The Railways Department did hold an enquiry, and the result was the dismissal of both the driver of the Helensville train, John James Corich, and the tablet porter Thomas William Mortimer who was in charge at the New Lynn station. But this enquiry was held behind closed doors.
The residents demanded a public enquiry, and so one got underway in September 1913, four months after the crash. It turned out that while the tablet porter had received the danger signal that the train coming from Helensville was approaching, he’d had too many duties to keep sufficient watch on what was happening (although Mortimer denied he was overworked). There was no fog signalling at New Lynn station – a fog signalman was appointed only two months after the crash. The practice of shunting goods trains from the main line to sidings was well-known in the district as a potential disaster waiting to happen, with four passenger trains a day passing through New Lynn station, and with New Lynn’s goods traffic, thanks to the brickyards, increasing month by month at that point.
The enquiry found that the driver of the passenger train, Corich, should have reduced his speed, given the weather conditions, but recommended reinstating him at a lower status due to his youth and lack of experience. Corich tried to appeal against the railway department’s ruling the next year, but was convinced to withdraw, as he still had a job with the department. Mortimer on the other hand was recommended to be exonerated. He was described as the New Lynn station master in 1914, before serving as a guard for most of the rest of his career.
Photos: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 22 AWNS-19130605-10-05, -10-06, and -11-1