Author(s): Graham Stewart
There can’t have been too many New Zealanders in 1953 who were not affected in one way or another by the country’s worst ever railway accident to that time and since. In his introduction Mr Stewart relates how at the prompting of his father he drove at top speed in the morning of Christmas Day 1953 from Auckland to take pictures of the devastation of express 626 at the Tangiwai bridge. He wasn’t the only one: it is said that the area was littered with film wrappers. This is now the fourth printing in book form of his resultant photos, the previous being Tragedy on the Track. Those who have that book will find most of the photos are repeated, although there are some new ones including a rather insipid watercolour painting on the cover by artist Barry O’Donnell. Fortunately the much better Phil Belbin oil painting has also been included. The page format is larger and so are some of the photos. As before, the text is based on the Board of Inquiry report but an interesting addition this time are comments at the end by filmmaker David Sims who produced a TV documentary on the subject in 2002, in which he demonstrated that engine driver Charles Parker acted to stop his train upon seeing the lahar on the right hand side of the locomotive, rather than a result of seeing Cyril Ellis running along the track waving his torch—a piece of folklore now debunked. Debate will continue, however, on whether the Tangiwai Bridge, or specifically its pier 4, should have been able to withstand the lahar.