Sunday, September 28, 2008

Death in the rush-hour

David Daniels was a well-liked 73 year old married man in 1916, a resident in Avondale since the 1890s, still going to work in a boot factory in Kingsland at his advanced age. He lived in Brown Street, today’s upper Rosebank Road, and was closely connected with the nearby Methodist Church. Travel to work for Mr. Daniels was by train at 7 o’clock in the morning, and usually he’d walk up Station Hill to the overhead bridge and then down the pedestrian ramp to catch his ride, despite moving with a limp, some said because of his tender feet.

On Thursday 16 March 1916, however, he was running a bit late. He’d been a bit poorly recently, a touch of the ‘flu, and the train was soon to arrive. On that morning, he took the alternative shortcut, a pathway with a turnstile just off Layard Street (likely close to the RSA today) which led across the city-bound line on the northern side of the platform. By then, since 1915, there were two lines around the station building (the building most will remember, which is now at Swanson, was brand new with the redevelopment that year). The rail authorities created the Layard Street entrance for people to use, and around 100-150 people used it each day. Most kept their eyes open, and listened for trains before crossing the line.

David Daniels, however, not quite well, in a hurry, and partially deaf, didn’t hear the train making its way up the grade past Crayford Street, nor did he hear the shrill whistle when the driver saw to his horror what was about to happen.

He was struck by the engine’s cowcatcher, and dragged about a carriage-length underneath the engine along the tracks. His body was so entangled, they had to use jacks to lift the engine off his remains. The back of his head was stoved in by the initial impact. The coroner ruled that death was probably instantaneous, but witnesses claimed that Mr. Daniels saw the oncoming train when it was just a yard away and tried to flee.

In his ruling, the coroner laid no blame on the train driver, but said that the Layard Street entrance was hazardous. It may have been because of this tragic accident now long forgotten that the entrance was fenced off and only the ramp at the overhead bridge is the legal access to the station in 2008. Yet just before I wrote this, one Saturday afternoon, I saw a passenger who had alighted from the same train as I did make his way along to the end of the platform, past all the signs stating “No access”, and then across the same part of the line where Mr Daniels met his death, to head for what is now an unofficial shortcut to Layard Street and Rosebank Road.

As I said, David Daniels and his fate have been forgotten. While we forget tragedies such as his, we never learn.

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