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Memorial Stone for Tangiwai disaster’s unsung heroes

News: 13 April 2017

On Sunday 7 May 2017 a special memorial event will be held at Tangiwai to honour the heroism of Locomotive Engineer First Class Charles Parker and Locomotive Fireman Lance Redman, whose selfless actions saved 134 lives during the Tangiwai disaster.

Image is courtesy of KiwiRail.

The event is the result of a joint initiative between the Ruapehu Lions Club, Lloyd Morgan Trust, KiwiRail, the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) and Main trunk Ohakune. The day will include a blessing from the Ngati Rangi Trust, speeches from local dignitaries, and an unveiling of a memorial stone in honour of Charles and Lance. Members of the public who wish to pay their respects are invited to attend the service from 11.45am - 2.00pm at Tangiwai, off State Highway 49 (past Turikina Valley Road, adjacent to Whangaehu River).

The Tangiwai disaster killed 151 people and remains the worst rail disaster in New Zealand’s history. On Christmas Eve 1953, the rim of Mt Ruapehu’s Crater Lake gave way, unleashing around 2 million cubic metres of water, filled with ice and rocks, down the Whangaehu River in the form of a giant 6-metre wave.

The water hit the pylons underneath the Tangiwai railway bridge, significantly weakening the structure so that it was unable to hold the weight of night express No: 626 when it tried to pass just minutes later. At the time the train was making its way from Wellington to Auckland for Christmas morning.

As the bridge began to crumple Charles initiated an emergency brake application and Lance sanded the tracks for 200 meters to help the entire train to brake faster, preventing the last three carriages, guards van and postal van, from falling into the river. Until now, the two have not been formally recognized for their actions.

“The Charles Parker and Lance Redman Memorial is the culmination of huge community effort. We are so proud to have led this project to honour these brave men and have their monument sit at the Tangiwai site dedicated to those who perished in the disaster” says Bob Norling, Chairman of the Tangiwai Memorial Committee.

KiwiRail, Mainline Steam and the Rail Enthusiasts Society are running a return steam engine service from Auckland to Palmerston North for those interested in attending the event. For more information or to book tickets please visit the Rail Society’s website at or call 0800 472 453.

KiwiRail’s Group General Manager Operations Rob McAlpine says not only is KiwiRail thankful for the time that local businesses owners and rail enthusiasts have donated to the event but for the sacrifice Charles and Lance made.

“We will forever be eternally grateful to Charles and Lance for their professionalism in the face of what must have been a frightening and inevitable situation. They have played an incredibly important part in the Tangiwai story and hold a place in New Zealand’s history forever.”

Rail and Maritime Transport Union Acting General Secretary John Kerr said ‘’the RMTU is proud to be associated with the effort to honour these two brave workers who acted with such selfless courage to save many lives at the time of our greatest rail tragedy”.

The Tangiwai disaster memorial event is also being supported by the Department of Conservation, Rail Enthusiasts Society, Mainline Steam, Ngati Rangi Trust, Ruapehu District Council, NZ Army, and Mahy memorial stones.

Updated on 8th May 2017