13 March 2023

Riverina Rewind: Right angles lead to tragedy on the infamous Kapooka Bridge

| Chris Roe
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truck crash

A truck is winched up off the tracks after falling foul of the infamous Kapooka Bridge turn. Photo: Museum of the Riverina (Lost Wagga Wagga, Facebook).

The recent train derailment at Old Junee and the dramatic images of a twisted truck carriage on the tracks reminded us of an older image of a Betta Transport truck on the tracks at Kapooka Bridge.

The original brick bridge over the railway lines at Kapooka was built in 1880 around seven kilometres south of Wagga on what would become the Olympic Highway.

Built in the days before cars, the narrow structure would have been perfect for horse-drawn vehicles but outlived its utility by about 100 years.

Angled at 90 degrees to the Uranquinty road on either side, the sharp turns caught out dozens of drivers over the years and the bridge was the scene of many accidents and several fatalities.

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In June 1946, three men were injured when a truck crashed into the side of the bridge heading south.

They struck a guide post on the approach, hit the end of the bridge and were left suspended over the 12-metre drop.

In another incident in August 1952, The Daily Advertiser reported that “goods trains were delayed for several hours by a five-ton truck which crashed through the safety fence of the overhead bridge near Kapooka, and finished with its front wheels straddling the railway line at the foot of the steep embankment”.

Driver, 26-year-old Kenneth Brown, received a minor head injury and was treated for shock while his two passengers, both ‘new Australians’, suffered abrasions and back and shoulder injuries.

The truck had been heading towards Wagga on the Uranquity road when it went over the embankment, through a wire fence and down onto the tracks.

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Things took a tragic turn the following year in 1953 when 22-year-old Mena Doreen Upton was travelling from Wagga to The Rock with her mother-in-law at the wheel.

“I swung to go onto the bridge as I had done dozens and dozens of times,” Mrs Upton Snr said.

“The car just didn’t take the curve, the steering wheel wouldn’t respond.”

The car careened over the embankment and down onto the tracks.

While her 15-month-old baby and mother-in-law were unharmed, Mena suffered a spinal injury and died in St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney six months later.

A subsequent inquest suggested that a cracked steering column may have been to blame.

Kapooka Bridge

For a brief window in 2016/17 both bridges operated at Kapooka. Photo: Lost Wagga Wagga (Facebook).

Shire engineer, Mr I. Butcher compiled a safety report after the incident but was apparently reluctant to blame the bridge for the repeated accidents.

When considering adding improved safety features he noted that “it is already signed in strict accordance with the Safety Association of Australia Roads signs code,” and that the primary problem was on the Wagga approach where “the bridge forms a ‘T’ Junction with the Uranquinty road and a continuation of it towards Kapooka”.

He pointed out that the drivers involved in recent accidents knew the road well and that “a crash fence will only keep the accident on the road instead of down in the gully.

“If the people insist on ignoring the road signs we have there, then there is nothing we can do about it.”

Councillors voted to erect a new safety fence, painted black and white for visibility, and requested the Department of Main Roads place larger signs at the intersection.

The patched and battered bridge was finally replaced in June 2016 and the original was demolished in August 2017.

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