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10 Facts About the Kendal Train Crash in Jamaica

by Deon Clarke | Associate Writer



A September to remember. Can you imagine the sheer horror in the middle of the night as the two diesel engines and the twelve wooden carriages of the fast-approaching train bore down on the sleeping town of Kendal, Manchester? The sound of the three shrill whistles blasting in the quiet air signalling the sudden and tragic end to what was supposed to be a safe journey. In just a matter of minutes, the train had picked up speed and derailed. Screaming survivors, wailing wounded, and fragments of human bodies spread across hilly landscapes among fragments of twisted metal.

A sad night in Jamaica indeed, and the days to follow were no different. Families ripped apart forever. This basically sums up the nightmare of the Kendal train wreck, only it wasn’t a nightmare but reality in the worst possible way. Let us take a look at 10 facts about this terrible tragedy.
  1. The Kendal train crash happened on September 1, 1957, at about 11:30 p.m. when the train was returning to Kingston from Montego Bay.

  2. The Kendal train crash occurred in the quiet town of Kendal in the parish of Manchester, hence the name, “Kendal” train crash.

  3. It is reported as being the worst rail disaster in Jamaica’s history and the second-worst in world history at the time.

  4. The passengers on the train included hundreds of members of the Holy Name Society of St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church who were travelling from Kingston to Montego Bay for an all-day excursion.

  5. The Reverend Father Charles Earle was the pastor on board with the responsibility of the members travelling.

  6. There was a total of 1600 passengers on the train, though the limit for the 12 carriages was 80 each. The train was obviously overcrowded as there should have been a maximum capacity of 960 persons.

  7. There were nearly 100 known criminals, pickpockets and hooligans aboard the train. The criminals were reported to have caused so much chaos and ruckus on the train that the Catholic priest declared that the wrath of God must have come down on them (a prophetic statement unknown to them at the time).

  8. There were nearly 200 persons killed in the accident and about 700 persons injured in the tragedy. There was much looting and robbing of the dead and injured after the crash.

  9. The accidental closure of an angled wheel (brake) cock that had been incorrectly placed, was later determined to be the cause of this dreaded accident. Unconfirmed reports from some survivors stated that many of the hooligans on the train rode on the steps and platforms and had even tampered with that angle cock while on route to Montego Bay. Others also claimed to have seen the wheel tightened while in Montego Bay.

  10. The ensuing investigations revealed that there were several deficiencies on the part of the Jamaica Railway Corporation. With regards to the wrecked train in question, the general standard of maintenance of the brake equipment was deemed to be quite unsatisfactory.

One thing was for sure - the train was overcrowded. There were 130-150 passengers per car instead of the allotted 80. As you can imagine, confidence in the rail service eroded significantly

I’ve never been on a train before but I always hoped to do so one day, though, in the back of my mind, I would also worry about safety. But, then I think, hey, how much different is it from travelling on a bus or any other vehicle anyway? You hear of motor vehicle accidents every day but rarely of a train derailing, so I think I’ll take my chances. Of course, technology has improved significantly since then and now train operations are safer. As a child, I used to watch the bauxite train as it travelled from ALPART (Alumina Partners of Jamaica) to Port Kaiser and it was quite a thrilling experience though it was so far away.

Over the years, there have been several talks to revamp the railway system in Jamaica but nothing has come to fruition to date. However, in an attempt to create a safe and orderly system to take children to and from school, the Government embarked on a train system from Spanish Town to Linstead in collaboration with the JUTC, who would pick up the students at the Spanish Town Railway Station and drop them off at various schools in the town. A test run was done on May 20, 2021. However, plans are currently on hold due to the Coronavirus as there are minimal or no face-to-face classes. When this all gets running, let’s see if this will expand and take passenger travel to the next level.

I also recommend you read 16 Fun Facts About Jamaica
You'd Never Guess It :-)
.

Regards,
DC

References:
  • 101 Did you Know Facts About Jamaica, My-Island-Jamaica, https://www.my-island-jamaica.com/support-files/jamaica_101.pdf
  • A Special Gleaner Feature on Pieces of the Past - Tragedy at Kendal - 1957 -The first 500 years in Jamaica, http://old.jamaica-gleaner.com/pages/history/story009.html
  • Jamaica Railway Corporation to transport students in September, Jamaica Gleaner, https://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/news/20210527/jamaica-railway-corporation-transport-students-september
  • Remembering Kendal Crash, Jamaica Observer, https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/observer-central-front-page/remembering-the-kendal-crash-plans-being-made-to-mark-1957-rail-disaster_143802?profile=1606

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