The Accident near Brehliu in 1946

The poor standards of maintenance caused by the second world war left the entire infrastructure and stock of the RSR in a severely run-down state. Particularly badly affected were the track and locomotives with inside cylinders. This parlous state of affairs, or rather a lack of attention to it on the part of RSR staff, was the direct cause of a serious accident on 3rd February 1946. A goods train, hauled by the delapidated Teslov 3-cylinder 2-8-4 no. 433C.019 and consisting of over sixty two-axled wagons, was descending the gradient from Lihnoprun to Brehliu at the somewhat reckless speed of 85 km/h, when the inside crankpin bearing seized and caused the connecting rod to shear off just in front of the big end. The inside cylinder, still of course being supplied with steam by the valve gear, flailed the broken connecting rod back and forth once or twice, until it punctured the underside of the boiler, engulfing the engine in a great cloud of steam and hot water. The crew were taken completely by surprise and the driver instinctively made an emergency brake application. The rickety goods wagons, many with less than effective brakes, soon found their way off the uneven track and turned away to both sides, some spilling down the embankment over which the train was just passing and some crossing over to the opposite track.

At that moment, as fate would have it, an eight-coach express from Gunerad to Forihv, hauled by the freshly outshopped Šahlmeti 4-6-0 no. 323C.021, was forging up the gradient at some 55 km/h and ran head-on into the wayward wagons. The express was brought almost to a dead stop, the front bogie of no. 323C.021 being derailed and the first two coaches telescoping against the tender; the third coach of the express leaned over and was strafed by a couple of the wagons which had till that moment held the track.

The crew of the express were both injured and in the telescoped coaches nine people were killed and twenty-three more injured, some seriously. Many other persons suffered cuts and bruises. The third coach of the express was damaged on its corridor side, affording the passengers a fortunate escape.

The public enquiry, held as usual in the Bevice City Courthouse on 4th April 1946, apportioned considerable blame to the crew of the goods train, who were found to have driven at excessive speed in view of the poor mechanical condition of their locomotive and the generally bad state of the permanent way. In defence the driver stated that a knocking big end was a sign of a loose bearing, not of one that was about to seize up, and was in any case typical of class 433C locomotives. It is also relevant to speculate what the ride must been like on the footplate of no. 433C.019, bearing in mind the bad state of the track and that class's reputation for rough riding. (This was a factor in the decision to rebuild the engines into 2-8-2s in 1950.) In the main, however, the crash was designated a misfortune of war by the enquiry and led to the recording of verdicts of accidental death on the victims at the coroner's court in June 1946.

Locomotive no. 433C.019 became no. 433E.019 in November 1950 and remained in service until October 1966. No. 323C.021 went to the scrapyard in March 1954.

(c) Norman Clubb 2004