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State Rail Authority lawyer Mr John Pollard was pleased with himself yesterday morning when, running late for work, he managed to hop on a train leaving Burwood Station.
A few minutes later, "firebombs" were going off around his head and the floor of the carriage exploded into flames.
He and the other passengers scrambled to the rear of the carriage and watched the fire as the Hornsby to Central train continued its non-stop run from Burwood to Redfern.
"I was reading the Herald when it happened," said Mr Pollard, who is a solicitor for the chief executive of the State Rail Authority, Mr David Hill.
"There seemed to be firebombs shooting about the carriage - flames and splinters and people running about in a panicky sort of style, pushing and shoving to get out of the carriage.
The electric motor powering the 1927 carriage on the eight-car "red rattler" had blown up. The explosion shot an inspection cover above the motor into the air and sent fragments of the equipment flying into the carriage walls and ceiling.
Five people were injured and three were taken to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
The most seriously injured, Mrs Thelma Beaumont, 62, of Enfield, was transferred to Concord Hospital, where she was in satisfactory condition last night. She received first degree burns to about 30 per cent of her body.
Her husband, Robert, 64, who was also transferred to Concord Hospital, was discharged last night. The third person admitted, Miss Cindy Fore, 26, of Burwood, was also discharged. She and Mr Beaumont received superficial burns.
Mrs Beaumont, who was going to the city for Christmas shopping, bore the brunt of the explosion. She was sitting next to the manhole when it blew up.
The blast, about 9.35 am when the train was near Lewisham Station, knocked Mrs Beaumont to the floor.
"I picked her up, said Mr Pollard, "and walked her out of that section of the carriage. The area affected was the front, or vestibule, of the rear carriage.
We walked back to the other section, where we took refuge until we reached Redfern."
A formal SRA inquiry is now going on. A safety check of all the old single-deck carriages in use has been going on for some time. The SRA still has about 250 "red rattlers" and SRA engineers had cleared 86 before yesterday's fire.
"Firebombs" ... The carriage after the explosion.CREDITAUL MATHEWS
The old carriages are used only in peak hours.
It is not the first time that a motor has
overheated and blown up - "they are a mechanical headache on the railways," Mr Hill said.
"They're the largest single mechanical problem but we have no record of passengers ever being at risk before. The motors usually blow across and not upwards when they are overheating. The carriages are being replaced by the new Tangara double-deck electric cars."
Delays to the implementation of the Tangara meant the "red ratters" would hang around for a while longer, despite their age. When it was reported that the last of them wouldn't be replaced until the mid-1990s, it was estimated some of them would be 68-years-old! The Tangara was unveiled at Sydney Central in December 1987, entering service in April 1988.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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