Magazine Article 1970 – Manawatu River Accident 1946


Mail Coach Vol.6 No. 8 April 1970

On 20 August 1945 train No. 902, a Palmerston North – Napier goods train of twenty-four vehicles headed by 145-ton Ka locomotive 4-8-4 No. 951, pulled out from Palmerston North station; the weather was stormy and unpleasant but good running was made north-eastwards across the plains, and over the Pohangina river bridge into the Manawatu bridge river gorge.

The Manawatu river rises, north of Norsewood, on the eastern slopes of the Ruahine ranges and after flowing southward and joined by the Mangatainoka, Tiraumea, and Mangaho tributaries, turns abruptly westward near Woodville flows through a narrow twisting gorge between the Ruahine and Tararua ranges to enter the Manawatu district. From the gorge the river flows south-eastwards past Palmerston North and Foxton to enter the Tasman Sea beyond Foxton. The railway between Napier and Palmerston North had been completed along the northside of the gorge in 1891, and in the first years had given concern with subsidence[s] or slips.

Train 902 successfully travelled through the gorge, across bridges and through tunnels until about 4.10 am, near Te Apiti, a flag station since closed about four miles west of Woodville, and nearing the eastern portals of the gorge, the train either ran into or was struck by a slip. This was at a point where the track was held in position by a concrete wall about 60 feet above the level of the heavily flooded Manawatu river. The train’s locomotive and the first three waggons [wagons] (two La class highside waggons and an Xc class box waggon) were derailed and thrown into the flooded river. The locomotive driver and fireman both lost their lives. The next four waggons on the rain were also derailed but teetered on the bank above the river.

When daylight came some hours later the only railway vehicle visible in the muddy river was one corner of the box waggon. This wraggon Xc 1002, contained letter mail from Wellington to Havelock North, Hastings, Napier, Wairoa and Gisborne (one bag for each office), nine bags of newspaper and other articles, 39 parcel-post containers and 33 loose parcels, from Wellington the South Island for Hawkes Bay offices. It was several days before all the mail could be recovered, having to be hauled up the steep riverbank.

On recovery the sodden mail was taken to Wellington where, in the United Services Clubs disused premises in Manners Street, the mail was carefully spread on the floor and drid [dried] out while some parcels could not be preserved the letters, being tied in tight bundles, had been so badly affected. Salvage took over a week and as soon as the mail had been properly dried it was forwarded to the addresses. Only a small percentage of the mail was unidentifiable.

Before re-despatch the mail was rubber stamped in purple with an explanatory stamp, there being one stamp for parcels, and another for letters:


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Magazine article

Date published

8 April 1970


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