Sunshine Rail Disaster
The most terrible accident that the state has yet encountered occurred at Sunshine Station (formally known as Braybrook), on Monday night, when the Bendigo express dashed into the rear of the Ballarat train as it moved along the platform, smashing three first, a second class carriage, and a guard's van into fragments. It is believed there were 140 passengers in this part of the train, and of these 41 were killed, and 78 more or less badly injured.
The Ballarat train, crowded with holiday passengers, was a very long one, and unable to let all the passengers for Sunshine alight at once. They had got out of the first half of the train, and the rest of the carriages were just drawing alongside the platform when the Ballarat train ran up, disregarding both signals, and the terrible collision occurred.
Instantly the air was filled with the agonised groans & screams of the hapless crowd not killed in the smash outright, and to add to the horror of the scene, the debris caught fire, and some of the wounded were burnt severely before the fire was got under. The crash of the collision was heard through the town, and an anxious crowd hurried up, and gave willing help to remove the dead and injured. The local fire brigade answered the firebell so quickly that the fire was soon under. The stream of water poured over the dead bodies and wounded for a time. The accident happened at 10.35pm and at 12.20 the undamaged part of the Ballarat train started for Melbourne. It had to travel slowly because the carriages had to be pushed ahead of the engine some of the way, and care had to be taken not to shake the injured.
As passengers escaped, they began to rescue the less fortunate. One difficulty was a lack of adequate lighting. Only a few lamps were available, assisted by the unfortunate burning of carriages caused through escaping lighting gas.
Despite the accident occurring at 10.50 pm, it was not until nearly 1 am that a relief train, with doctors, nurses and an ambulance corp on board, reached the scene. On the station platform, seat squabs brought from the damaged carriages were used to place bodies, with an additional layer above in an attempt to dignify the mutilations inflicted on the victims. The nearby Sunshine Harvester works was used as a first-aid room for wounded passengers.
The night of the accident had been clear and a 5km straight line preceded the station on the approach from Bendigo. One person who escaped almost certain death was the Guard of the Ballarat. He had left the van to signal right-away to his train's driver and upon seeing the Bendigo train bearing down, stepped back from the train. The guard's Van and the adjacent four passenger carriages were wrecked. All of the passengers killed were on the Ballarat train, however a total exceeding 1000 were aboard both trains.
The undamaged section of the Ballarat train left for Melbourne at 1.00 am, carrying those either uninjured or in a condition enabling them to travel. Other trains were dispatched to the scene and these began the task of taking bodies back to Spencer Street Station where a temporary mortuary had been established and ferrying injured closer to medical attention. It was 3.30 am before the last of the injured had been removed and taken to hospital.