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Hyde Rail Disaster

Photograph courtesy of the Otago Daily Times

Hyde Railway Disaster - 1943

On 4 June 1943, the Cromwell to Dunedin passenger train derailed in a cutting, known locally as Straw Cutting, shortly after crossing the Five Mile Creek bridge between Hyde and Rock and Pillar.

At the time, it was the worst train accident in New Zealand history and took place while the country was at war and resources were stretched.

The train was running behind schedule from the Cromwell station and driver John Cochrane wasted no time in trying to make up the lost time. The swaying of the carriages got worse as the train carried on down the line and the speed increased. A number of the passengers noticed the speed shortly after leaving Ranfurly and as it continued, luggage began falling from the racks above. 


Hyde Rail Disaster

Photograph courtesy of the Otago Daily Times

Otago Central Railway – Train on Manuheretoa Bridge No 38, Subject

Photograph Collection Box 47, Number 24,

Toitū Otago Settlers Museum

At the time of the accident, the express was travelling at over 70 km/h, instead of recommended 48 km/h. As the train derailed, the noise of the crash was heard some distance away. The front carriage broke free of its couplings and catapulted forward of the engine. It was torn apart end to end.


The second carriage telescoped against the back of the engine, ending up on the right hand side of the bank. The third carriage came to a halt across the track. The fourth carriage passengers suffered the most injuries when it shattered, with its roof pointing up into the air. Only the last two carriages remained upright and incurred minor damage as did the guard van. The two goods vans were undamaged.

The driver and fireman were thrown from the engine on impact. As well as the impact of the train derailing, coal, smoke and escaping steam from broken pipes made it difficult for rescuers, who were made up of locals, uninjured passengers, the Home Guard and emergency services who took over 90 minutes to reach the site due to its location. 21 passengers were killed and many injured in the accident.

The Board of Inquiry found that the engine had overturned as a result of entering a curve at more than twice the permitted speed. The engine driver was found to have been negligent and was convicted after being tried for manslaughter in the Supreme Court at or in Dunedin. 

MCC1, Photos, Manitoto County Council archives, Central Otago District Council Archives


Hyde Rail Disaster 06 1943 3

Photograph courtesy of the Otago Daily Times

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