Main Trunk Line express train disaster

6 July 1923

The wrecked Auckland–Wellington express
The wrecked Auckland–Wellington express (Geoff Conly and Graham Stewart)

The Auckland−Wellington express ploughed into a huge slip that had slumped across the tracks at Ōngarue, north of Taumarunui in King Country. Seventeen people were killed and 28 injured. This was the first accident to claim more than four lives since the beginning of New Zealand’s railway history 60 years earlier.

The disaster occurred just before 6 a.m. There was no chance to stop as the train was rounding a sharp bend. Locomotive Ab 748, its tender and the following postal van were thrown off the track. Further back in the train, the force of the impact telescoped three wooden carriages. At least 12 passengers were killed instantly. The engine driver and fireman were both badly injured, but survived. Most of those in the sleeping cars at the rear of the train only learned of the accident when they were woken so their bedsheets could be used as bandages.

Ōngarue remains the country’s third-deadliest rail disaster, behind the Tangiwai (see 24 December) and Hyde (see 4 June) tragedies, which killed 151 and 21 people respectively.