Ten years on, widow recalls horror of Waterfall crash

After the Waterfall train crash, Helen Zeides went to the accident site and imagined she had been aboard when it happened.

She looked down at the tracks and studied marks that told some of the story of how the train had derailed at high speed and powered into a cutting of solid sandstone.

She thought of the six dead passengers and wondered how much they might have known what was coming.

And she thought of her husband Herman, at the controls of the train before it all went so wrong.

Had he still been alive when train met rock, trying everything he could to stop it?

"I looked at the marks on the wall where it hit. It was like, 'Oh my God'," Mrs Zeides said.

"What everyone must have gone through. I would hate to have been on that train and known that fear."

Mrs Zeides and other family members of those killed at Waterfall will meet in Helensburgh today for a service marking the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.

Some of the families have marked multiple anniversaries together at the same place: Holy Cross Church.

But an especially large turnout is expected after 10 years.

It was dark, before 1am, on January 31, 2003, when Mr Zeides left his Unanderra home to start his shift.

Then - and later as he took the controls of the 6.24am Central to Port Kembla service - there was no sign that he was unwell. But in fact only about 10 per cent of the normal supply of blood was getting to his heart.

He chatted amiably with colleagues in the State Rail Authority staff room at Central railway station before boarding the four-car Tangara with guard William Van Kessel.

At 7.12am the train pulled out of Waterfall station. Everything was normal for about the first 100 metres. But then the train failed to slow down ahead of a right-hand curve, instead speeding up so much passengers would later report being pushed back in their seats.

The train derailed about 1800 metres south of Waterfall when it took the turn, still at a speed much higher than normal.

Nineteen of the 47 commuters were injured and seven people were killed.

They were 53-year-old Mr Zeides; James Ritchie, 39, of Sans Souci; Yi Zhang, 40, of Granville; Mark Hudson, 48, of Padstow Heights; John Burt, 62, of Figtree; Marie Goder, 35, of Mortdale; and Andrew Ludmon, 38, of Cronulla.

Mrs Zeides was driving to work when she heard the first news reports about the accident. She tried to ring Mr Zeides right away.

"I just said, 'Where are you? I heard about the derailment in Waterfall'," Mrs Zeides recalled.

The scene of the 2003 Waterfall train crash.

The scene of the 2003 Waterfall train crash.

"I waited a while then rang again. I said 'Please call me'. When I didn't hear back, I rang State Rail and got the news.

"I didn't even hear him leave for work that particular morning. There was no goodbye."

The aftermath of the tragedy was made more difficult for the Zeideses by uncertainty surrounding the cause of the accident.

Mrs Zeides received comforting letters and cards from commuters telling her they had always felt in safe hands with her husband at the controls.

But he was "definitely blamed" by others, she said.

An inquest and commission of inquiry eventually revealed that Mr Zeides had suffered a heart attack and the weight of his legs prevented the "deadman's" emergency brake from operating.

Mr Zeides had begun working for State Rail straight out of high school and had more than 30 years' experience driving trains.

He "loved his job", but not as much as he loved his family and his duties as a new grandfather, Mrs Zeides said.

Helen Zeides, wife of train driver Herman Zeides, at the 2004 memorial service.

Helen Zeides, wife of train driver Herman Zeides, at the 2004 memorial service.

"Probably the last birthday he celebrated with us, he said he'd rather have a barbecue at home than go to a family restaurant," she said.

"He was a family man."


Discuss "Ten years on, widow recalls horror of Waterfall crash"

Please note: All comments made or shown here are bound by the Online Discussion Terms & Conditions.