As the train hurtled down the track, passengers heard a screaming, grinding noise metal on metal.
There was banging and crashing, sparks flew everywhere.
One woman stood up and shielded her head with her hands. “There was absolute blackness,” she later said, “and seconds later there were lights and bodies and I was trapped.”
The Wormit rail crash on May 28, 1955, killed three but, with 539 on board including 301 children and scores injured, it could easily have been many more.
One of the dead was just 10 years old. Dundee FC-mad Ian Shaw, on a Sunday school picnic with his seven-year-old brother, had asked the driver if he could stand on the engine’s footplate for the journey back.
At Wormit station, onlookers saw the engine come out of the tunnel going backwards and plough into the platform.
Sleepers, stones, brickwork and earth were all blasted skywards.
The engine folded up and overturned. The guard’s van and the two succeeding coaches were telescoped, the front of the guard’s van thrust upwards. Splintered woodwork and upholstery were strewn across the line.
The main photograph opposite, from minutes later, shows complete chaos passengers piling out of the coaches, people climbing across the four overturned carriages while children huddle, traumatised, on the platform. The steam rising from the engine could be seen in Dundee, as news spread to panicked parents who headed straight for the Tay Ferries to get to Wormit.
Passing motorists stopped to help and took injured passengers to hospital.
The driver, Alexander Low then 39 suffered burns and lost an arm in the crash, which happened just after 7pm on a Saturday evening just yards from the Tay Rail Bridge.
He was cleared of culpable homocide by a majority verdict at trial the following spring, but an official Ministry of Transport inquiry said Low, who had been drinking, had acted with “sheer recklessness”.
Inspecting officer Colonel McMullen’s report said: “This can be no case of misjudgment, and I attribute it to nothing less than sheer recklessness. I am unable to say whether Low’s judgment had been affected by the drink, but on a hot day even a small amount of alcohol may have been sufficient to slow down his reactions and possibly make him a little reckless.”
Colonel McMullen said the train could have been travelling at up to 55mph, while experts said a derailment could not have happened at anything less than 50mph twice the recommended 25mph. The colonel suggested that the driver could have been showing off to the three unauthorised passengers on the footplate, all of whom died.
The bodies of 39-year-old church elder Charles Harrower, of Strathmartine Road, and railway fireman John Cowie, 32, of Blackscroft, were found in the train’s engine room covered in coal.
Though many passengers escaped unscathed, the disaster stayed with them. Nearly 30 years later, Alan Fenton, who was seven at the time of the crash, said: “It comes back to me every time I cross the bridge.
“Looking back, I feel that if the engine hadn’t come off the rails in the tunnel, it wouldn’t have taken the bend on to the bridge and would have dropped off.”
At Low’s trial, Euphemia Taylor recalled how she could still feel the speed of the train, the loss of control.
“It was all very clear to me,” she said, “too clear, this terrible sensation of speed, and the train being out of control.”