About Ken Howard... a glimpse of the man behind the Games
(Scroll down for Ken's story about his personal involvement)

As well as being a successful designer of both board and computer games, Ken Howard has had other involvements that are well outside this area

For many years, before injury in a police pursuit and subsequent disability made it impossible to continue in that profession, Ken was a police officer with the NSW Police Department. His recollections, set out below, are in response to a request that he write down the part that he played in the Granville Train Disaster. It may shed some light on the man as well as being very informative concerning the tragedy that unfolded that day.
(Phil Hall, Canberra, 1998) 

A 10 minute documentary on the 1977 Granville train disaster had been produced by Andrew Grill from HotGrill Productions. Features Interviews from Gary Raymond (Rescuer) and Paul Touzell (Survivor) as well as rare archival footage from the crash.

1977 Granville Train Disaster Documentary from Andrew Grill on Vimeo.

~ The Granville Train Disaster ~ Sydney NSW Australia ~ 18 January 1977 ~  
 Granville Train Disaster - Story

Granville Train Disaster newsletter clips
Granville Train Disaster newsletter clip
The aftermath of the Granville Train Disaster, 1977. Photo courtesy of News Ltd.

^ back to top

Granville Train Disaster

A Rescuer's Perspective by Ken Howard
(Ken was approached by Margaret Warby to write an article for a history book ~ this is that article)

I remember I was on duty at Balmain Police Station. Not long in the force, I joined in 1975, and already had been involved in investigating many incidents and accidents. I was only 6 weeks in the job when I was confronted with a deranged gunman who ended up pointing the gun at himself. He was only a couple of metres from me, when he shot himself instead of me. It was a bit of a shock for a novice 19 year old cop. But I don't think anything was to prepare me for Granville!

Throughout the day when the news first hit, all of us gathered round the police radio speaker at Balmain, realising this was bad and probably going to get worse. You just felt helpless for the victims. Often we'd listen to some drama taking place LIVE in some other precinct. Thinking back on it now, I can see that it was riveting, no different from watching a horror mystery movie unfold before your eyes, captivating you in your seat with every scene.

The next day, I arrived early at the station for my 7am shift, feeling disheartened at the tragedy that developed in the news overnight. Before I could do anything, we were taken aside and told the truth of the train wreck. That they needed more police urgently down there and that they wanted volunteers from every district. Without hesitation I offered, not thinking about the consequences in the long and eerie drive to Granville, with some other uniformed officer and a couple of detectives.

We parked on the eastern side of the collapsed bridge and I think the first thing I noticed was the Salvation Army set up with some tents handing out food including McDonalds Big Macs. For some reason, this impressed me, it made me realise that people do care. The past year and a half had been hard for me, seeing and being at so much death and tragedy, I knew the job made me question many of my so-called values.

I then looked up. Rising smoke, dust. Tents to my right. Gory on-lookers to my left, panning down the road as far as you could see. Hanging out of buildings. Fire engines, ambulances, police cars everywhere. I walked down to the tent. No words or expressions could describe my lack of preparedness for my next sight. A tent full of corpses, mangled corpses, pieces of mangled corpses. I had to look away but I had to look again. Death, I thought, is so unnatural. We weren't meant to die, not this way. Surely God meant us to live forever. I was now out the front of the tent, the ground sloped forwards in front of me to the edge of the rail tracks, then it struck me. A vision of ultimate mayhem extended across my whole field of vision.

^ back to top

Appearing like one of my model toy trains, smashed to pieces, was almost indescribable. Like your eyes were playing tricks. I think I was still recovering from what I saw in the tent, yet it was like when you have a fever and your body floats and things appear small AND big but at the same time. The destruction seemed to go on forever.

Walking down among the ruins, my memory replays it like a slow-motion movie, where you're not part of the film but you are there, almost spliced into the scene, looking around in replay. Looking up at the crowds around the edge of the embankments, it was like I was in an ancient Roman arena about to fight to the death. But this crowd wasn't cheering and those in the arena weren't fighting each other, but they were fighting. Fighting time. I wondered how anyone could survive under the weight of the bridge that had rested on the train only a few inches above the ground.

But survive they did, many did. But many didn't. That was my job, to bring out those that didn't. I never got over the pain of that day, and I can't remember how many bodies I helped to carry out. I can't even remember any of them, I don't want to and I choose not to. I only remember taking out two in detail. A girl's body with a missing arm. Later I found the arm.

An officer in charge asked, again later still, about the arm, now at the city morgue. I was able to help match up the PIECES. One less body I thought, they thought there were two, I helped, that's one less victim. In a disaster like this, with literally pieces of human everywhere, it was easy to miscount.

Walking back to the train carriage, I looked behind me. It was strange that some carriages were intact. Nothing wrong with them. Lottery. It was like a lottery which carriage you got on. Yuck what's that? It looked like a tube of macaroni but it wasnt! It was a portion of some poor victims artery. I shook my hand in disgust. Death was now on me. I realised everything was death, the smell of it was everywhere. I was death. I was dying. Will I live forever? My faith in the Lord kept me going.

Three passengers left. Only the floor of the carriage could be seen now. An elderly couple lay there peacefully embraced. I thought that they obviously knew they were going to die in that packed train. After it hit the pylon, tipped over and split in two, they must've heard the bridge-slab creaking about to drop due to lack of support. Did they tell each other of their undying love? I think they did. I could see they loved each other. Their arms had to be broken to break their embrace. Rigor mortis.

^ back to top

He was a big fellow! He was the last. It took six of us to carry his body on the narrow stretcher. I'm embarrassed that I dropped my corner at one stage. I hated how hundreds were watching my every move. One nut even said on the news that she thought it was disgusting how the police wouldn't let them get down closer to look at the bodies. Some people! There was nowhere to wash my hands. I was hungry. Hours without food. I had to have a Big Mac. "Thank you" I said to the lady in the Salvation Army uniform, "Thank you". I threw out that uniform when I got home and showered twice. Still death clung to me. I couldnt get rid of its ugly smell.

My life was now changed. I had to make some changes, improvements. Life is too precious, too short, too tragic.

Nightmares, I dont want to think about it. But the dreams were to last for years. I don't like talking about it.

Writing this took all the will-power in the world, I put it off for a week but it feels good. Even talking about the morbid scene, cause it's as real as eating the burger was. Experience.

Granville Train Disaster picture 
Granville Train Disaster picture
Granville Train Disaster picture

^ back to top


Some time later, I met a young woman at church or a party or somewhere. Someone said we should talk, that she was on the train. I had to ask her. Why she survived? What was it like during the crash? She told me she went to get on the doomed carriage but that a big fat man wouldn't let her on the packed crowded compartment, so she got on one further down the platform. She told me of the trauma of it all. I don't know why but I didnt tell her that I carried that fat man's body off that carriage, that his rudeness saved her life. I knew then that fate and luck have nothing to do with providence.

I've visited the disaster site, about three times now. I can never get out and walk around there, although I sort of want to. I think it's great that they have erected a memorial. I have never attended a memorial service, but it doesn't mean I don't think about that train.

MOVIE ~ Day of the Roses (2002):

On hearing that they were making a movie about Granville, I was surprised that the producers didn't contact any of us. Even though we didn't do much to help the living victims, I feel that there is another side of the story to tell. There were other victims! The loving old couple, the girl with the missing arm and the fat man who, through death, saved a girl's life.

Re-VISITING the Train Site (2003):

After viewing the film, which in itself took all I could muster, I was dazed and shocked. Insisting on watching it on my own, as I knew it would be both emotional and tormenting for me, however, I did find it interesting to view the whole scenario from "another" perspective - that is - NOT my own. I saw other police who were "in the trenches" bravely pulling out survivors, paramedics doing all they could to help, thieves stealing supplies from the back of the ambulance. Life doesn't change. Things happen. Good and bad. I have to move on, I thought. So shortly afterwards, I drove to Granville on the day after one of the anniversary "days". I took my, then 14 year old, son James. I pointed to where I worked. Where the train was. Where the temporary morgue was. Then tears welled up in my eyes. Fear, pain, confusion, TIME, overwhelmed me. I said: "James, that's enough... let's go".

Life goes on. So does mine... this time it all whelmed up inside, adding to it... missing my beloved wife, my children's mother. The pain. Life goes on. I have a hope. I will survive. My faith in the Lord keeps me going. Thank you Father. Only YOU.

Ken Howard

^ back to top

A Chronology of Serious Rail Accidents:

Major railway accidents in Australia for the 20th century:

Dec 2, 1999: Seven people were killed and 51 injured when a Sydney bound commuter train slammed into the back of the Indian Pacific at Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains.

August 18, 1999: Twenty people injured when the Indian Pacific hit a stationary freight train at low speed 250km east of Kalgoorlie.

July 7, 1999: Three passengers injured when a CityRail train derails between Sydney suburban stations, Hornsby and Asquith.

June 9, 1998: Empty eight-car passenger train derails at high speed at Sydney's Concord West. The driver is seriously injured, the guard suffers slight injuries.

May 19, 1998: Two train drivers die when their freight train derails near Robertson, south-west of Wollongong.

January 14, 1996: A train driver and a young boy die when a freight train collides with a fuel train at Hines Hill, 240km east of Perth.

May 6, 1990: Six people die when an Intercity express train crashes into vintage steam train "3801" at Cowan, north of Sydney.

January 18, 1977: Australia's worst railway disaster occurs at Granville, Sydney. Eighty-three people die when a peak-hour train derails and crashes into a concrete bridge.

January 16, 1976: Goods train ploughs into the back of a stalled passenger train at Glenbrook, NSW. One dead, 10 injured.

February 7, 1969: Nine people die when the Sydney-Melbourne express travelling at 120km/h, collides head on with a goods train at Violet Town, Victoria.

February 26, 1960: Seven people die when a flood-weakened bridge collapses underneath the Rockhampton-bound Midlander at Bogantungan, Queensland.

December 1, 1956: Five people die in an accident at Wallumbilla, Queensland.

^ back to top

December 19, 1953: Five people die and 748 are injured in a collision between two passenger trains at Sydenham, Sydney.

June 1, 1952: Nine die in bus-train accident at a level crossing at Boronia, Victoria.

May 7, 1952: Ten die, 81 injured in train accident at Berala, Sydney.

February 24, 1951: 11 people killed in a collision between a bus and a train at a level crossing near Horsham, Victoria.

June 30, 1948: Mail train derails at Rocky Ponds, near Harden, NSW. Four people killed and 19 injured.

October 18, 1947: Eight people killed when mail trains collide at Tamaree, Queensland.

May 5, 1947: Train derails at Camp Mountain, Queensland, killing 16 people.

Jan 20, 1944: Bus hit by mail train at level crossing at Brooklyn, NSW. 17 people killed.

May 8, 1943: Train collides with bus at level crossing at Wodonga, Victoria, killing 25 servicemen and women aboard the bus.

September 13, 1926: 27 people die when a Sydney-bound passenger train hits several runaway goods wagons at Murulla, NSW.

June 10, 1926: Sydney-Brisbane express falls through a timber bridge at Aberdeen, NSW, killing five people and injuring 50.

June 9, 1925: Train derails on bridge at Traverston, Queensland. Ten people killed.

^ back to top

November 6, 1920: Nine people die in timber train crash near Wokalup, Queensland.

August 30, 1920: Five people killed when a train shunts into the back of a locomotive at Hurtsville in suburban Sydney.

March 16, 1914: 14 people die when a train hits another train in fog near Exeter, NSW.

Jan 30, 1913: Passenger train hits train near scene of earlier derailment: 14 people killed.

July 18, 1910: Train hits locomotive in fog at Richmond, Victoria, nine killed.

April 20, 1908: 44 people killed when two trains collide at Sunshine, near Melbourne.

Feb 15, 1901: Train derailment at Sydenham, NSW, kills seven people.

^ back to top