History: The 1968 Layang-Layang Collision

The headline on the accident on Berita Harian’s 25 April 1968 edition. Click here for or to read the original: https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/page/beritaharian19680425-1.1.1

ON THIS DAY… On the evening of 23rd April 1968, one of the worst accidents in KTM’s history occurred just outside Layang-Layang in Johor, 50 miles north of Singapore. Three people were killed when a railcar service from Kuala Lumpur collided with a mixed train head on.

The trains were no. 15dn, an express railcar service from KL to Singapore, while the mixed train, no. 88up, was going in the opposite direction as far north as Gemas. The express service was made up of two Class 28 (28104 & 28115) railcars with a trailer sandwiched in between.

A typical railcar express service (Known as the “Rengkas” in Malay) consist made up of two Class 28 railcars working in multiple with a trailer car in between. This photo was taken in 1975 in Singapore, some eight years after the incident described herein. The service with the railcars was the only one on the network then allowed to run up to its maximum speed of 95km/h. Photo by Malcom Wilton Jones @ searail.malayanrailways.com

No. 88up was worked by a steam locomotive, no. 56404, and comprised four passenger coaches, ten goods wagons, and two brake vans (BGB). 15dn left KL for Singapore at 1.30pm that afternoon, while 88up blew its departure whistle in Singapore later at 3.12pm.

88dn reached Layang-Layang at 6.18pm, 98 minutes behind schedule, contributed among others by being held up south at Sedenak to let mixed train 119dn pass on its way south. At the helm of 88up was driver Sain Akib, 47; 1st fireman Othman Mohamed Amin, 45; and 2nd fireman Abd. Ghafar Abd. Ghani, 29; The train guard was Veloo S/O Ayasamy, 49, and the brakesman was Munusamy S/O Perumal, 58.

The railcar express 15dn had a normal run, sustaining its maximum speed of almost 100km/h (60mph) most of the time when it came to a halt somewhere before Labis, on account of one of its pneumatics pipes suddenly bursting. The driver successfully tended to the problem and 15dn began rolling again 17 minutes behind schedule. It entered the Rengam – Layang-Layang block section at 6.14pm eight minutes behind schedule. The crew of 15dn were: Driver Ajaib Singh s/o Mehar Singh, 37; Fireman Marimuthu s/o Suppiah, 32; Guard Jacob Stanislaus, 38, and ticket collector Cheng Sin Jua, 39.

No. 88up pulled into the Layang-Layang platform which is on the mainline at 6.18pm. A southbound ballast train was already waiting in the loop line. As 15dn was expected soon, it was decided that 88up would cross with the railcar express here.

As the ballast train was occupying the crossing loop, after passengers from 88up had detrained and boarded, the driver Sain of 88up was instructed by the Layang-Layang station master to move his train past the northern point of the loop, backing into it once the tail end of his train is clear.

To facilitate this, the ballast train was instructed to move a bit further south of the loop line to make space for the 88up mixed train which was to move forward North, and reverse into the loop line to clear the mainline for 15dn. The image below illustrates this planned shunt movement.

88up then proceeded forward slowly upon receiving hand flag signal from the guard, Veloo. The mainline up to Outer Home would have been at the Danger aspect to protect the movement of 88up against the oncoming 15dn

The distant signal displays either green or yellow, but in any case could be passed taking into account that the yellow aspect warns that the next signal, the outer home, may be at danger. Or, he might be diverted from the main running line. If the distant signal is green, it means the section ahead of Layang-Layang and all signals directing the movement of trains through the station are in the clear – trains may proceed at normal speed.

On this day at the time, following the shunting movement of 88up, the down distant would have been yellow and the outer home at danger (red). This would have been confirmed by the position of the state of the ground levers controlling signals and points, at the station’s ground lever frame.

As 88up passed the shunting limit board, it proceeded a little bit further waiting for Veloo to signal him to stop, indicating the rear of the train is clear of the Northern points diverging the line into the loop. At that point driver Sain would have stopped 88up and wait for the inner Home signal and points to be set for the loop line before reversing into it. This would also have been confirmed by Veloo the guard and Munusamy the brakesman.

Driver Sain stopped his train and at that moment his 1st Fireman Mohd Othman shouted “Railcar!” which drew his attention to the looming 15dn. It was too late.

The train collided head on with 88up. Leading railcar 28104 became detached from its train, sustaining crushing damage to its front and fell 50ft down the ravine on the left, landing on its side. It then burst into flames.

The middle trailer car of 15dn became derailed, and tilted precariously to the left. Last vehicle railcar 28115 remained upright and on the rails.

On 88up, locomotive no. 56404 together with its tender were derailed, the locomotive itself sustaining significant damage. The impact of the collision caused the tender to knock into the passenger coach immediately behind it (TV 725). The coach front bogie was dislodged

Rescue was effected within minutes. Sarjan Dali Harun (No. 7362) of the Layang-Layang Police Station was the hero of the day, breaking the windows of railcar 28104 to help trapped passengers in the burning rail car escape.

Of the 90 people aboard 15dn, 48 were hurt. Seven were hospitalised in Kluang, one of whom suffered serious head injuries. The injured were ferried to hospital by bus, ambulances and private cars from the accident location.

Sadly, the driver of 15dn, Ajaib Singh was killed – he was thrown out of the railcar cab by the force of the impact and died on his way to the Kluang hospital. His assistant, fireman Marimuthu Suppiah, was trapped in the cab and also killed on the spot.

A young passenger was initially unaccounted for. After the fire which engulfed 28104 had subsided, rescuers found the charred remains of nine-year old Maurice Lee Siew Liang. He’d been onboard 15dn with his younger brother and cousins on their way to Singapore. Maurice, who hailed from Petaling Jaya, was buried in Singapore.

Maurice Lee Siew Liang, 9, was travelling with his cousins and younger brother aboard the railcar service on their way to Singapore for a holiday. In the ensuing chaos trying to escape the carnage, his relatives lost track of him. Upon hearing the news of the accident, his family went to the hospital in Johor Bahru looking for him, only later to be told he had been found in the wreckage. His family told the press that he loved Singapore so much.

KTM’s General Manager at the time, Waad Jamaluddin, estimated the loss following the accident to be at RM400,000. He further stated an investigative commission would be formed to find out the cause of the accident.

The accident report was eventually submitted to the Minister of Transport by the Federal Court Deputy Registrar, Abdul Hamid Tan Sri Azmi, on 6 September 1968.

The accident was ultimately found to be the result of a sequence of errors and negligence by the driver of both trains (Ajaib for probably passing the down outer home at danger, and Sain for passing the Shunt Limit as indicated by the board), the assistant of 15dn, as well as the guard of 88dn and Layang-Layang station master – though that of the last was cited as contributory rather than directly causing the accident. The conclusion was that the driver of 15dn had passed the down outer home signal at danger, directly causing the accident – though why an experienced driver would do so will never be answered as both he and his assistant perished in the accident.

This article originally appeared as a thread on our twitter account on 23 April 2024, with some modifications.

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