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The locomotive that hauled 83 passengers to their death in the Granville Rail Disaster had a defective wheel that the NSW government knew about and later covered up, according to the author of a book on Australia's deadliest train crash.
Barry Gobbe claims to have exposed one of the biggest government conspiracies in Australian history, after a decade of painstaking research into the devastating 1977 derailment.
Rail workers had spotted a fault in one of the wheels on electric locomotive No. 4620 a staggering six months before the January 18 crash, Gobbe told nine.com.au.
The coroner responsible for investigating the crash that killed 83 and left more than 200 injured was leaned on and "harassed" by his government bosses to stay silent about the wheel, according to Gobbe.
Barry Gobbe was the first ambulance officer to arrive at the scene of the Granville Train Disaster. Source: Supplied
Crucially - and fatally – rail maintenance workers had no spare sets to replace the dangerously worn-down leading wheel, he said.
Instead of taking the locomotive out of action while it was fixed, it was kept in service.
"By the time it ran off the track they'd let it run for another 50,000km," Gobbe said.
Travelling at a speed of 78km/h, towing eight packed carriages on its morning commute from the Blue Mountains towards Sydney, the locomotive derailed at 8.10am as it entered a left hand curve near Granville.
The locomotive with the defective wheel ploughed into one of the support trestles of the overhead Bold Street bridge, bringing down hundreds of tonnes of concrete on top of two carriages.
A government inquiry found the primary cause of the crash was the poor fastening of the track on the bend – a consequence of inadequate maintenance.
The report stated that this caused the tracks to spread and resulted in the left front wheel leaving the rail, triggering the catastrophic derailment.
But Gobbe, who was the first ambulance officer on the scene that day in 1977, told nine.com.au he did not believe this was the whole truth.
He claimed "there was a lot of corruption and collusion going on" behind the scenes of the investigation.
In the aftermath, coroner Tom Weir was appointed by NSW government to help make sense of the horror.
Rescuers laboured in the most hazardous conditions to try and free survivors and remove the deceased from crushed carriages. Source: Nine
Weir's report briefly mentioned the suspect leading wheel on the locomotive, but Gobbe said the coroner was threatened that his career was at stake unless he stayed silent.
At the time, Weir was being bullied by Chief Stipendiary Magistrate Murray Farquhar and other powerful figures in the shadows, Gobbe said.
"I have a hand written letter from [Tom Weir] that says how he was being harassed by Murray Farquhar," he said.
"He released as much [information] as he possibly could without losing his job but in the end he did lose his job. They demoted him, put him in a back room but they kept his wages the same so he wouldn't say anything."
In 1985, Weir's boss Farquhar was sensationally jailed for four-and-a-half years for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in a 1977 court hearing involving then Australian Rugby League boss Kevin Humphreys.
Farquhar was found to have pressured a subordinate magistrate to dismiss the charges against Humphreys, who had dug himself into a hole through gambling debts and allegedly misappropriated NSW rugby league funds.
A Royal Commission into the accident found that the primary cause of the crash was "the very unsatisfactory condition of the permanent way". Mr Gobbe disagreed. Source: Nine
"I believe [Farquhar] also perverted the course of justice in the Granville train disaster," Gobbe said.
Coroner Weir was supposedly haunted by what had happened until he died in 1996.
Gobbe said Weir's son Jamie had personally told him that his father, while lying on his deathbed, "was still very upset with the way he was treated by his bosses".
Money had been at the root of the cover up, Gobbe alleged.
Admitting to pre-existing knowledge of a defective wheel would have opened up the then-Labor state government to a far more punishing degree of compensation claims, he said.
"If the truth was fully known it possibly would have bankrupted them."
Gobbe, who is a spokesperson for survivors and families of victims, said many people were never compensated by the government, while others were given insubstantial "pittance" amounts.
Police rescue squads, fire brigade units, ambulance services, emergency medical teams, railway workers and other volunteer organisations, such as the Salvation Army formed part of the huge operation. Source: Nine
"One particular family didn't even get enough money to even put a headstone on their grave," he recalled.
Gobbe claimed to have been in "very close contact" with NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance and Sydney Trains.
"No one has ever disagreed with my findings," he said.
"We've now got the truth out there, what we believe did cause [the crash], not what the government led us to believe."
NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance's office could not comment on the claims, a spokesperson told Nine.com.au.
Tina (left) and Barry Gobbe (right) lay flowers at the Granville train disaster memorial plaque in western Sydney on Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009. Source: AAP
Gobbe said he was "very impressed" with a recent review of Sydney Trains' current safety operations and procedures.
Where in 1977 they had no spare sets of wheels, they now stock 40 in its warehouses, he said.
Almost 40 years after Australia's worst train disaster, the NSW government on Sunday said it will finally apologise to survivors and families of those who died.
Gobbe welcomed the move, saying "people have been looking for some sort of admittance by the government that they handled things very badly and they just wanted an apology for that."
This article first appeared on www.9news.com.au
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