Tangiwai disaster 1953

Where can I find information about the Tangiwai rail disaster in 1953?

Entry last updated: 26/05/22


Tangiwai is the site of the worst railway disaster in New Zealand’s history. It happened on Christmas Eve 1953 when the Wellington to Auckland night express train plunged into the Whangaehu River at Tangiwai killing 151 passengers. The train was crossing a bridge that had been weakened by a lahar (mudflow) that came from Mount Ruapehu. The bridge collapsed when the train went over it.

Facts and articles

There are several excellent websites that have facts and information about the Tangiwai rail disaster.

Christchurch City Libraries

Christchurch City Libraries have put together some useful fact sheets on New Zealand disasters, including one on Tangiwai.

  • Go to Explore at the top of the page and select Tamariki-Kids.

  • Choose Homework from the list in the green column and find New Zealand Disasters.

  • Look down the page to Bus and Railway to find a link to the Tangiwai Railway Disaster.


This is one of our favourite sites for information about New Zealand. To find facts about the Tangiwai rail disaster:

This article has lots of great information. If you select All images and media for Tangiwai disaster you can view images, video and sound files related to the disaster including some primary sources such as A Tangiwai disaster survivor talks.

Tips: NZHistory is a great website for information about Aotearoa New Zealand. If we go all the way down the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

This is another reliable resource for questions about Aotearoa New Zealand. This website also belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage.

  • Enter the keywords 'Tangiwai rail disaster' into the search box.

  • We found the Ruapehu and the Tangiwai disaster article interesting, as it discusses the link between the disaster and the eruption of Mt Ruapehu eight years earlier.

Tips: Search words, or keywords, are the most important words in our question. Usually it’s better to leave out small words like ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘of’ and just choose the main ones, eg Tangiwai rail disaster. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.

Manatū Taonga - Ministry for Culture & Heritage

The website of the Ministry for Culture & Heritage also has useful information about Aotearoa New Zealand.

  • Select NZ Identity & Heritage.

  • Choose National monuments & war graves.

  • Go down the page to Related webpages for Tangiwai Memorial. It shows images of the memorial and a list of the names of people who were killed in the disaster.

Tips: We like sites like this because they’re reliable. You can tell because of their web address – they have either .govt or .ac, meaning they are from government or educational organisations. They’re also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.

Newspapers, pictures and videos

There are also sites that have newspaper articles, pictures and videos about the Tangiwai Rail Disaster. Some of these are from the time of the disaster (primary sources) and others have been written or made since.

Topic Explorer

Topic Explorer is an online tool from the National Library of New Zealand. It contains a wide range of quality resources for students in a range of formats, (eg articles, books, images, videos, primary sources, sets, websites) on a variety of topics. These resources have been selected from reliable national and international sources.

  • Choose Disasters New Zealand from the topic list.

  • Filter by the keyword 'Tangiwai' to find information on the rail disaster.

  • The video Tangiwai Disaster produced by the Auckland War Memorial Museum demonstrates how the disaster could have occurred.


This is a good place to search for images and documentaries because it links to several of the most important museums, libraries and art galleries in New Zealand.

  • Enter the keywords 'Tangiwai rail disaster' into the search box.

  • Explore the information you find on the Tangiwai Rail Disaster.

  • You can choose to look at just Images, Audio, Videos, Stories or Articles.

Tips: Websites that have .org or .net in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the About us link on the website, if you can find one. That can tell you what the organisation’s mission and values are.

Australia/New Zealand Reference Centre

This is one of the EPIC resources, a collection of reliable databases covering lots of different topics. It’s put together especially for New Zealand school students and helps to answer questions like this.

  • Search for 'Tangiwai rail disaster' or 'Tangiwai memorial' to find articles from New Zealand, Australian and international newspapers, magazines and reference sources.

  • Select Full Text to find complete articles.

Tips: To get to the EPIC resources you will need a password from your school librarian first. Or you can chat with one of our AnyQuestions librarians between 1 and 6pm Monday to Friday and they will help you online. Some EPIC databases may also be available through your public library.


There are books that have been written on the Tangiwai rail disaster. Check out your local public or school library to see what they have.

Some recommended titles are:

SCIS no: 1832641

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