News & Media

Head-on train crash a shock

  • Long time Euroa firefighter Michael 'Mick' Peel

In light of the upcoming 125th anniversary of the Euroa Urban Fire Brigade in June, brigade member Anthony Cini will be taking a trip down memory lane with brigade members on their most memorable fires.

It was Friday, February 7, 1969.

The Euroa Urban Fire Brigade, which boasted about 30 members, received word of a crash at Violet Town.

At first, they thought it involved two trucks, then they heard it involved a truck and a train.

Brigade members responded to the call and were shocked when they arrived at the scene, near McDiarmid’s Road railway crossing, to find two crashed trains on fire.

It was a scene then brigade Apparatus Officer Michael Peel would never forget.

“We didn’t know what to expect when we heard about the call,” he said.

“What you hear on the radio and what you see in real life are normally quite different. I certainly didn’t think when we rolled up the freeway that I’d see two trains on fire.

“In fact, there probably hasn’t been another train accident like that in Australia since.”

The accident involved the head-on collision of a passenger train, the southbound Southern Aurora, and a northbound freight train on the Sydney-Melbourne train line, which had opened seven years prior.

The trains were supposed to cross at the Violet Town crossing loop (where there are two tracks) but because the driver of the passenger train had died of an apparent heart attack 5-6kms north of the crossing loop, the train didn’t stop at the red signals.

The train continued until it collided head-on with the freight train, which ultimately killed its driver.

The two drivers were among nine that perished that day out of almost 200 passengers.

Mick, or ‘Peely’ as he is affectionately known, said the firefighting effort was immense with well over 100 firefighters in attendance from numerous brigades.

“They came from all over the place. I was out there all day and night with other emergency services, rescuing people and trying to put the fire out.

“The clean-up was enormous and took about four days,” he said.

While firefighters finished the job, Peely says if the same incident were to happen today, the method would be the same but more professional.

“There would be more radio contact with VicFire, who would page more appliances to help local brigades. But I still think it still would take four days to finish the job.

“Back in ’69, all Euroa had was the town pumper and the state spare. It was actually the first time Euroa could get a spare and we definitely needed it for the Violet Town crash.

“Today communication is 100 per cent better than it used to be so while it took a little while to gain momentum in Violet Town, the professionalism and skill would work in our favour.”

Peely has held numerous roles in his 50 plus years in the brigade, including training officer and later Captain.

“I joined Euroa because my father (Leo ‘Dempsie’ Peel) was a volunteer and I was quite community-minded – I suppose I still am.

“Training used to involve the boys (and girls) talking about jobs and when the time came, we just did it. Nowadays, the training is a lot better with the introduction of Minimum Skills as a requirement to turn out to jobs.

“Back then, we didn’t have the best equipment but we do now and it makes an enormous difference.”

Nothing makes Peely happier than to watch new and upcoming members improve their firefighting skills.

He particularly likes to take the trucks “for a run” around town to ensure they’re in optimum condition when the fire siren goes off.

“The Euroa brigade is a great community organisation and the fellowship is the best thing about it.

“Sure, there is a serious side to being a volunteer firefighter, but there’s also a social side and that’s why I’m still here.”

  •        The Euroa Urban Fire Brigade will be celebrating its 125th anniversary on the Queen’s Birthday Weekend (June 9-11) in 2017.
  •        On Friday, June 9, the brigade will lead a Torchlight Procession through Euroa starting at DeBoos Street at the North Eastern Hotel at 7.30pm. Turning left into Elliott Street, right into Euroa-Shepparton Road (Scott Street), left into Railway Streetm right into Binney Street, left into Brock Street. Fireworks will take place at the Euroa Memorial Oval (Slee Street) after the march concludes. All welcome.
  •        On Saturday, June 10, a 125th Anniversary Dinner will take place at the St John’s Mercy Centre from 6pm at $30 a head. BYO drinks and come and enjoy a two course meal with live entertainment and music, with past and present members of the brigade. 
  •        On Sunday, June 11, the Euroa Fire Station doors will be open from 10am-12pm. A sausage sizzle, jumping castle and drinks will be available across the road at the Lions Park.
  •        For more information on these events, call Damon Rieusset on 0413984858 or Neville Mawson on 0418588868.
Last Updated: 23 March 2017