Graham White had no reason to believe it was a day different from any other. It was October 20, 1999, and the Dunedin-based train driver had just pulled up his southbound train 919 on the Main South Line at Waipahi Station.
He was just about to jump out of the locomotive to change the mainline points so that northbound train 938 could pass on a parallel section of track diverging from the main line. It was the responsibility of the first train to arrive to set the mainline points for the passing loop.
Unfortunately, the trains arrived at Waipahi Station almost simultaneously and, at 7.02am, train 938 entered the station and collided head-on with train 919, killing Mr White and seriously injuring the driver of train 938.
From 1993 to 2008 New Zealand’s railways were privately owned. The private owners believed that the marketplace would somehow create safe working conditions. During that time the following rail workers were killed on the job: Graham White, Sean Smith, Jack Neha, Peter Silbury, Murray Shaw, Tim Steffert, Rudolph Wairau, Billy Trouland, Ambrose Manaia, Neil Faithful, Neville Bell, Robert Burt and Jim Jacobs.
In June 2000 Margaret Wilson the Minister of Labour announced that there would be a Ministerial Inquiry into these deaths.
On October 2019 a special train traveled from Dunedin to Waipahi where a commemoration of the Waipahi rail accident and Graham White’s death took place.
On the return journey to Dunedin the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union arranged a cab pass so I was able sit up the front with the driver. I took the sketch book with me and scribbled down the changing view as the train rolled through the Southland country side – the drawings seemed to be much improved by the motion of the train.
This series of six paintings which I’ve called From Waipahi – in memory of Graham White were developed from the drawings.