Railway bridge collapse at Alpha (1941)

On April 8, 1941, a tragic accident occurred at Alpha (between Longreach and Emerald in central Queensland).

Train accident at Alpha Creek, 1941. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 13884

Train accident at Alpha Creek, 1941. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 13884

Witnesses at Alpha railway station heard the whistle and watched as a goods train from Emerald slowly proceeded over the wooden rail bridge that crossed Alpha Creek. All of a sudden there was a loud crash as the bridge collapsed under the locomotive, tender and first two wagons.

Railway accident at Alpha Creek, 1941. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 13887

Railway accident at Alpha Creek, 1941. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 13887

So intense was the steam that rescuers were unable to approach the engine for nearly 30 minutes. Engine driver George Condon and fireman Ernest Yahnke were found dead, with Condons hand still on the lever.

Railway bridge collapse at Alpha Creek, 1941. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 13885

Railway bridge collapse at Alpha Creek, 1941. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 13885

The position of the engine made it impossible to remove the bodies, which were crushed under the coal from the tender. To lower the engine to the ground, explosives were used to shatter the girders of the bridge. Initial reports suggested that the two men were scalded to death by the escaping steam from the boiler, however a government medical officer, Dr Martell, later gave evidence at the inquest that he believed the men most likely died instantly from their injuries "before - scalding took place". Both men are buried in North Rockhampton Cemetery.

Published in the Central Queensland Herald, 14 August 1941

Published in the Central Queensland Herald, 14 August 1941

The bridge was under repair at the time but only 15 minutes prior to the accident, another goods train had successfully passed over. The collapse came at a difficult time for rail services.

Recent floods in North Queensland had blocked the coastal route, forcing trains to travel inland before heading south.

The collapse of the Alpha Creek bridge severed the remaining rail link between north and south.

Myles Sinnamon - Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

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