Sun. May 26th, 2024

Passengers on board the Xplorer train from Sydney that crashed on Wednesday say they were told very little while stuck on board the train for five hours, and have not been offered counselling or any support.

A 77 year old Quirindi man died after his ute was hit by the northbound train at a level crossing on Callaghan’s Lane, approximately 5km south of Quirindi, just after 2.30pm. No one on the train was physically injured, including the driver and crew of the train. However, all 120 passengers were held on the train for up to five hours with little information and no food provided. The level crossing is notorious, with previous calls for safety measures such as lights and boomgates from the community ignored.

Codie and Reg were sitting in adjacent rows in car B towards the front of the train when the accident took place and saw the whole thing happen.

“He was stopped at the crossing and then suddenly went forward and we saw the car flipping in to the air on the right side of the train,” Codie said.

“I can still picture it in my head,” Reg said.

Codie, who was travelling home from her holiday, was supposed to be back in Tamworth at 3.37pm, but didn’t get home until after 8.30pm, missing her shift at work. She says the passengers were doing their best to take care of everyone, but it was hard when they didn’t know what was going on and they were stuck there for so long.

“The staff were really rude and wouldn’t tell us anything. If you asked them questions they would say ‘we’re not discussing that now’,” Codie said.

The little information they did get was wrong.

“They first told us we’d be moving by 4pm, that didn’t happen.”

“Then they told us we’d be on buses by 6.30pm, that didn’t happen.”

“Then finally at 7.30, they move the train the few kilometres down the track to Quirindi, and we get off the train there and on to buses.”

The information being released about the incident by NSW Police and Transport for NSW was also incorrect in many points. The NSW Police release at 4pm said the driver was aged in his 60’s, and did not correct that until the next day to say he was 77. They also claimed the passengers had been moved off the train, which prompted Codie to take the above photo, with the permission of passengers, to show they were definitely still on the train and that there were a lot of people on board.

A spokesperson for Transport for NSW said that the passengers were being looked after by staff and given free tea, coffee and water. Codie and Reg dispute this, saying they were offered only one free cup of tea or coffee, but any other food or beverages, including water, needed to be purchased.

“They kept offering food from the buffet but a lot of people on the train couldn’t afford it,” Reg said.

“I bought sandwiches and drinks for a few people and shared what food I had around,” Codie said.

The lack of food and water was not the only challenging situation, with the train quickly getting uncomfortable.

“The doors were locked and there was no air circulation,” Codie said.

“Fights were breaking out on the train because everyone was frustrated and we weren’t getting any help from staff.”

“Babies were screaming, and there were a number of people with mental health issues on the train who weren’t dealing so well and there was no one helping them.”

Reg, who lives with Bipolar Disorder and ADHD, was one of those people.

“I felt like I was locked in,” Reg said.

“Passengers were getting irritated and that but it’s understandable.”

They say there was also a young man on the train who had been released from jail that day and was having a particularly hard time with being trapped on the train for five hours. One of the passengers pulled on the emergency break to release the doors and let some air in. Reg and Codie both say that was the only passenger on the train the police cared about.

“We haven’t been interviewed by police, they only spoke to the guy who pulled the emergency break,” Codie said.

“The police never came on to the train and didn’t tell us anything.”

“The ambulance didn’t go through the train to check on people either.”

There were multiple social media posts from people on the train also corroborating that no one was looking after the mental wellbeing of passengers.

One of the Facebook posts from passengers during the incident.

The consequences of the incident were not limited to what happened on the train either. Reg was travelling to Tamworth to visit his mum who lives in care. As a result of the delay, he didn’t get to see his mum, and wasn’t able to access his accomodation. Codie put him up for the night.

“If it wasn’t for Codie I don’t know what I would have done,” he said.

“Poor Reg didn’t sleep much,” Codie said.

“I live on the other side of the train tracks [in Tamworth] and had a panic attack when I had to cross the tracks today.”

Both Reg and Codie say that no one has contacted them since the accident to check if they are ok or to offer counselling or support.

“Nuh, no one has called or nothing,” Reg said.

“If this is the way they handle serious accidents then their processes need to change,” Codie said.

Transport passes the buck

In the early hours of the incident, Transport for NSW did not communicate the disruption or provide any information to passengers on any of their websites or social media. The notice on Live Traffic, the Transport Management Centre website which is supposed to include all significant road disruptions, directed people to contact Liverpool Plains Shire Council for more information.

The New England Times has contacted the NSW Minister for Transport, Jo Haylen, multiple times seeking answers to questions about the lack of communication during the incident, but the Minister’s office did not reply. One of the questions put to the Minister is whether she thought it appropriate for the communication for such a serious incident involving a train to be put on a small regional council.

Liverpool Plains Shire Council Mayor Doug Hawkins offered condolences to family members, friends and the wider community affected by the crash at Callaghans Lane level crossing.

“It was saddening to hear that a member of the Liverpool Plains community lost their life at the Callaghan Lane level crossing [Wednesday] afternoon. I offer my deepest sympathies to all involved,” said Mayor Hawkins.

“This investigation is a police matter. Our responsibility as a Council is to ensure that those affected are supported in the best way.”

“We understand the enormity of this loss, and want to ensure that people know where and how they can receive 24/7 help. If you do need additional support, please don’t hesitate to call Lifeline on 13 11 14.”

You can also get support online at https://www.lifeline.org.au/get-help/

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