On Saturday, 11 December 1976 the Edward Street underpass was opened by Member for Wagga Wagga, Joe Schipp, and the Mayor, Brian Allen. This structure replaced the Tarcutta Road Level Crossing which came into service with the arrival of the first train into the South Wagga Wagga Railway Station on 1 September 1879.
According to the Wagga Wagga Progress Committee, the government had promised to construct a road under a viaduct when the railway was first built (this promise was emphatically repudiated by the Railways Commissioner in 1881). Instead, a crossing was put in place with gates and a gatehouse; this resulted in great inconvenience to travellers, stock and gatekeepers alike, especially at night when the gatekeeper would have to be woken to open the gates.
Despite the fact that the gates were a safety mechanism, travellers and railway employees suffered injuries and even death at this crossing. Even the gates themselves were at risk, having been smashed into by trains three times by 1883.
Mrs Houghton, a widowed gatekeeper, was hit and badly injured by a water train in 1896 while opening the gates at about 11pm. She was conveyed by an ambulance appliance, provided from the railway station, to the District Hospital on the corner of Johnston and Tarcutta Streets. Interestingly, instead of criticising her for her negligence, the editor of the Wagga Wagga Advertiser sympathised with Mrs Houghton’s situation in an article entitled, ‘Overwork and Underpay‘ and talked about her “arduous and worrying work” for which she “received the miserable pittance of ten shillings a week”.
Dick Kem, a Chinese market gardener on the Tarcutta Road, lost his life at these gates in 1911. He was leading his fractious horse across the line when it spooked and knocked him down in front of the wheel of the cart. He died immediately from his injuries. While Kem had been in Australia for about twenty years, his brother with whom he was in business had only been in Wagga for five weeks.
1943 saw a new type of gate installed; electric boom gates. Sadly, this innovation did not prevent accidents at the level crossing.
Accidents and near-misses remained a common occurrence until 1976 when the viaduct was finally built.
- Information kindly provided by Geoff Haddon