Author(s): Greg Mason
For the past 68 years the widely accepted cause of the tragic railway accident near Hyde, in Central Otago, has been excessive speed due to the intoxication of the engine-driver. This booklet challenges that conclusion and reveals that events surrounding the accident were far more complex. Evidence in support of the driver’s case is uncovered for the first time. The booklet is embellished with many photographs throughout, including some of the wreckage that have never before been published. Includes investigation into behaviour of train driver, John Corcoran, who was prosecuted for his part in the accident.
This booklet is the third in a series on this train crash, New Zealand's second-worst (behind the Tangiwai disaster a decade later) as measured by the number of fatalities. It follows two booklets by crash victim descendant Elizabeth Coleman containing stories of people involved in the accident and the movement to erect a monument near the site.
In An Accident in Waiting?, Coleman's son-in-law Greg Mason investigates the events before and during the crash.
The scene is set with a background of wartime austerity and railway staff shortages. Drivers are under pressure from the poor performance their
engines deliver running on cheap, low-quality coal as they attempt to keep to the timetable.
Mason has examined court transcripts and New Zealand Railways Department records on the crash investigation. He gives a detailed account of the manslaughter trial of driver John Corcoran, with many lines of quoted cross-examination.
The Railways board of inquiry is also discussed at length.
Questions about the driver's alcohol consumption and driving speed were pivotal to both investigations, although the inquiries seem somewhat slapdash by today's standards, as do the attitudes of those times to speed, safety and alcohol.
The authorities were quick to discredit Corcoran and seem to have steadfastly avoided any inference there was failure at an institutional level - this is rather a gift to a book reviewer whose previous review was on a text about the Mt Erebus crash, but I won't indulge in any parallel other than a rather intriguing one.
Corcoran's prosecutor, F.B. Adams, became a judge and presided at the murder trial of those heavenly creatures Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme. At this trial, Mr Justice Adams crossed swords with the prosecutor, one Peter Mahon ...
• Peter Dowden is a Dunedin writer.