Memorial unveiled to 1923 Ongarue Rail Disaster
Over two hundred people from around New Zealand attended the unveiling of the Ongarue Railway Disaster Memorial on Saturday (8 July 2023).
The disaster holds significant historical importance as it marked the first major loss of life in New Zealand railway history when the overnight express collided with a landslip, resulting in the loss of 17 lives and injuries to 28 individuals.
Ruapehu mayor Weston Kirton said that the development of a memorial was long overdue given the scale and impact of the incident which remains the third worst railway accident in the history of New Zealand.
“The stories and photos that are now on display at the memorial speak for themselves and provide a permanent reminder of the tragedy and its place in New Zealand's rail history.
It was wonderful to see so many people turnout for the unveiling including many from the local community and organisations who helped to build the site.
The impact of the tragedy was far-reaching and led to crucial safety improvements with carriage lighting and electric headlights being installed on locomotives, ensuring enhanced visibility, and reducing the risk of similar incidents.
By the end of the 1923-24, these safety improvements were implemented across most North Island express trains.”
Mayor Weston noted that the memorial had a special significance to him as he was the grandson of the Taumarunui Railway Stationmaster at the time of this accident, Alfred Weston Kirton, who played a leading role in the recovery operation.
“I am sure that he would have been very proud to know what we have achieved here in erecting a memorial acknowledging those who died, and those who responded to this major disaster,” he said.
Photos: John Chapman.