Remembering Kendal Crash

Today is the 60th anniversary of Jamaica’s worst railway accident

Friday, September 01, 2017

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What should have been an excursion to Montego Bay for members of the Holy Name Society of Anne's Roman Catholic Church turned tragic six decades ago when the train in which they were travelling crashed.

The ill-fated train, on its return trip to Kingston, derailed, killing close to 200 people and causing injury to several hundreds on September 1, 1957.

According to Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) at about 11:30 on the Sunday night, as the two diesel engines and 12 wooden coaches approached the Kendal train station in Manchester, three shrill whistle blasts signalled the journey's end.

With roughly 1,600 passengers on board, eight of the overcrowded coaches were wrecked, leaving fragments of human bodies strewn over a wide area among the mangled train's debris.

“Some persons died on impact, many died from being spiked by splinters from the wooden coaches, and various other injuries. Many of the dead were buried in a mass grave behind the crash site,” an article on the JNHT website stated.

Lance Neita, in an article titled 'The church picnic that never made it back home', published in the Jamaica Observer on September 12, 2015, noted that the aftermath saw panicked Jamaicans rummaging to find relatives who were on the train.

“The Mandeville and Spaulding hospitals, and all nearby clinics as far as May Pen, were crammed with victims, transported by ambulance, car, truck, or handcarts. Alcan bauxite personnel from nearby Kirkvine, the Red Cross, the Jamaica Defence Force, the Jamaica Constabulary Force, doctors, nurses, fire brigades, and thousands of Jamaicans from every nook and cranny raced to the scene,” he said.

According to Neita, as people searched for relatives, pickpockets moved through the crowd, robbing the dead “in a brazen and merciless fashion”.

“It was said that one of them chopped off a victim's arm to remove a wristwatch while the person was still gasping for life.”

Today, Jamaica commemorates the 60th anniversary of the horrendous Kendal Train Crash — the island's worst railway accident and the second worst rail disaster in the world at the time.

Yesterday, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia 'Babsy' Grange said there will be an exhibition to include general information on the crash at the National Library today.

“The National Library of Jamaica will be putting on an exhibition which will include general historical information on the train crash which was the worst rail disaster in the world at the time. It will also display newspaper headlines and photographs of the scene of the crash,” Grange said in a press release disseminated last evening.

Efforts are also being made to have a partnership established between the National Library and the Jamaica Library Service, to have the exhibition set up in all other parish libraries, starting in Manchester.

Grange said that this decision was taken following discussions that included Jamaican author Beverley East, whose book Reaper of Souls gives an account of the crash using fictional characters. East is said to have lost 14 of her relatives in the crash.

St Anne's Catholic Church, which had the most passengers aboard the train, will also remember the Kendal Crash in a memorial service on Sunday.

According to the JNHT, the Railway Commission of Enquiry attributed the cause of the crash to the accidental closure of a brake that had been incorrectly placed.

There is wide belief that the crash was orchestrated by vandals aboard the train who mistakenly pulled out the brake cable, instead of the electricity cable, to conduct unscrupulous deeds.

This crash resulted in the replacement of all wooden coaches with metal coaches. The Jamaica Government Railways was also reconstituted and renamed the Jamaica Railway Corporation.

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