This page describes many of the earliest, deadliest, and strangest train wrecks in the U.S. and worldwide.
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EARLY TRAIN WRECKS
What was the world's first deadly passenger train crash?
The first passenger train accident occurred on the Camden &
Amboy Railroad on November 8, 1833. As the result of a broken axle,
a passenger car derailed and overturned between Spotswood and
Hightstown, New Jersey. The incident killed two and injured at least
a dozen others. Cornelius Vanderbilt (later president of the New
York Central Railroad) broke his leg, while former U.S. President John
Quincy Adams escaped unharmed.
What was the world's first head-on train collision?
The first head-on collision occurred on Portsmouth & Roanoke
Railroad on August 11, 1837. A logging train and passenger train
collided head-on at Suffolk, Virginia, killing three and injuring
dozens of the 200 passengers.
What was the world's first major train crash at a bridge?
The first major railroad accident at a bridge occurred in
Norwalk, Connecticut on May 6, 1853. A New Haven Railroad express
train with 200 passengers from New York to Boston sped off an open
draw bridge at 50 mph, plunging into the Norwalk River. The
locomotive and first two passenger cars were submerged, while the
third broke in two with half hanging in the river. The death toll
was the worst of any American train accident to-date, with 48
confirmed deaths and 8 more missing. The engineer, who had failed to
observe a stop signal and then jumped to safety, was charged with
gross negligence for the disaster.
What was the world's first runaway passenger train?
The first passenger train runaway occurred in Tehachapi,
California on January 20, 1883. A Southern Pacific express train
from San Francisco to Los Angeles stopped at Tehachapi to cut out a
helper engine used to assist on the steep grades. While uncoupled
from the locomotive during this change, the passenger cars began
coasting downgrade at speeds up to 70mph until they derailed four
miles away. An investigation found that the hand brakes had been
intentionally released by two men attempting to rob the baggage car.
A combination of inexperience and the steep 2.5% grade likely caused the
criminals to lose control of the train, killing themselves and 19
DEADLIEST TRAIN WRECKS BY CAUSE OR TYPE
What was the world's deadliest train crash?
The world's deadliest train crash occurred in Sri Lanka on the
"Queen of the Sea Line" between Colombo and Galle. The train was
near Telwatta on the morning of December 26, 2004, just several
hundred feet inland, when tsunami waves struck the train following
an earthquake in the Indian Ocean. The train stopped and hundreds of
local residents climbed atop to avoid the surging waters. Larger
waves then struck and destroyed the train, killing at least 1,700 people
on and in the crowded passenger cars.
What was the world's deadliest train accident at a bridge?
The worst railroad bridge accident occurred on June 6, 1981
near Mansi, 250 miles northwest of Calcutta, India. An eight-car
passenger train plunged off a bridge into the Bagmati River, killing
nearly everyone aboard. An investigation found no damage to the
bridge or tracks, so it is generally believed that the incident
resulted from high winds or brake failure. There was no record of
the number of passengers aboard, but an investigation identified 268
bodies and at least 340 missing for a death toll of 608 or more.
What was the world's deadliest train accident in a tunnel?
A deadly train accident occurred on January 3, 1944 in a
tunnel near Torre del Bierzo in the León mountains of Spain. The
12-car Galicia Express from Madrid to Corunna lost its brakes and ran
into the back of a three-car freight within Tunnel No. 20. Minutes
later, an oncoming 27-car coal train plowed into the wreck. The
wooden cars burned inside the tunnel, delaying rescue efforts for
two days. The official death toll was reported to be 78, but studies
have estimated that more than 500 died in the impact and resulting
A second incident vying for the title of deadliest tunnel
accident occurred in Balvano, Italy on March 2, 1944. An estimated
700 people were riding in boxcars on a 45-car freight train hauled
by two steam locomotives. Due to the heavy load, steep grade, and
wet conditions, the train stalled within the mile-long Armi Tunnel.
The coal smoke asphyxiated the crew before they could get the train
restarted. Unaware of the impending danger, the majority of riders suffered a
similar fate. The resulting death toll was 530, the worst rail
accident in Italy's history.
What was the world's deadliest train accident caused by a
On June 16, 1972, approximately 60 miles north of Paris, a
collapse within the mile-long Vierzy Tunnel caused the crash of two
passenger trains. A six-car passenger train from Paris to Laon
struck a pile of debris and derailed within the tunnel, followed by
a three-car Paris-bound passenger train just minutes later. In
total, 108 were killed and an additional 111 injured in the incident.
What was the world's deadliest train accident caused by an
The world's worst railroad accident caused by an avalanche
occurred on March 1, 1910 in the Cascade Mountains at Wellington
(now Tye), Washington. A blizzard struck the area in the final week
of February, dropping several feet of snow per day. On February 24,
the Great Northern Railway's westbound Spokane Express from Spokane
to Seattle stalled in snow drifts east of 2.6-mile Cascade Tunnel.
Two nights later, the train made it through the tunnel to
Wellington, where it joined a similarly stalled mail train. Some
passengers took refuge in the railroad bunkhouse and nearby
cottages, while most slept onboard the train which was still heated
by coal-burning stoves. Snow plows were sent to rescue the trains
but made little progress in the continued blizzard conditions.
On the night of February 28, the snow stopped and temperatures
rose but the worst was yet to come. A thunderstorm triggered an
avalanche that struck the depot area and carried the trains 150 feet
downhill into a gorge. A total of 96 people were killed in the
incident, including 35 passengers and 61 railroad employees, while
23 others survived with serious injuries. Concrete snow sheds were
built to protect the tracks until the routing was eventually
abandoned in 1929 with the opening of a new 7.8-mile Cascade Tunnel
at lower elevation.
What was the world's deadliest train accident caused by an
The deadliest railway accident in Soviet history occurred on
June 4, 1989 near the town of Asha. Three hours before the incident,
operators of a pipeline noticed a drop in pressure. They failed to
check for a leak however, instead raising the flow to increase
pressure. Trains passing the pipeline on the Kuybyshev Railway had
notified the dispatcher of strong fumes, but no action had been
taken given the remoteness of the area. Then, shortly after midnight
local time, two oncoming passenger trains operating between
Novosibirsk and Adler ignited the gas. The resulting explosion
burned all 38 cars of the trains, killing 575 passengers and
injuring more than 600 others.
DEADLIEST TRAIN WRECKS BY REGION
What was the deadliest train crash in North America?
North America's deadliest train accident occurred in Mexico on
January 22, 1915. Mexican President Francisco Madero was
assassinated in 1913 and control was passed to Victoriano Huerta.
Huerta's government, however, faced stiff opposition from Venustiano
Carranza and Pancho Villa. When Carranza and his troops captured
Guadalajara on January 18, 1915, he ordered a special train to
transport the families of his soldiers inland from Colima (on the
Pacific Coast) to Guadalajara. Four days later, the engineer of this
900-passenger train lost control descending a steep grade. The
entire train derailed on a curve and plunged into a canyon, killing
more than 600 and seriously injuring many of the rest.
What was the deadliest train crash in the USA?
The worst train crash in U.S. history occurred on July 9, 1918
just west of Nashville, Tennessee. Two passenger trains collided
head-on, each at a speed of approximately 50mph, on the Nashville,
Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway. The wreck killed 89 and injured at
least 56 others. An investigation found that the eastbound express
train from Memphis was running a half hour late. The westbound was
to hold at Shops Junction, just outside Nashville Union Station, for
the eastbound to pass. For unknown reason, the westbound continued
past Shops Junction onto a single track section known as Dutchman's
Bend where it collided with the eastbound.
What was the deadliest Amtrak train crash in the USA?
The deadliest Amtrak crash occurred at the Big Bayou Canot
Bridge in Mobile, Alabama, on September 22, 1993. At about 2:45am, a
tugboat pilot disoriented by fog unknowingly slammed a barge into
the CSX swing bridge, knocking the bridge three feet out of
alignment. Although severely kinked, the rails did not break and
thus the track circuit (and clear signal indication) remained
intact. Approximately eight minutes later, Amtrak's Sunset Limited
train carrying 220 passengers from Los Angeles to Miami derailed on
the misaligned bridge at 72mph. The locomotives plus four of the
eight cars plunged into the water, where the the locomotive fuel
tanks exploded. The four remaining cars derailed but stayed
upright on the remaining part of the bridge. The incident killed 47
and injured 103 others.
What was the deadliest train crash in South America?
South America's deadliest train accident occurred on March 20,
1946 at Aracaju, Brazil, 800 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro. The
locomotive and four cars of a passenger train between Aracaju and
Capela derailed on a steep descent, killing 185 of and injuring 300
more of the estimated 1,000 passengers.
What was the deadliest train crash in Africa?
On February 20, 2002, an 11-car Egyptian passenger train
traveling from Cairo to Luxor caught fire. A cooking gas cylinder
exploded in the fifth car and fire spread for two hours before the
engineer realized and stopped the train at Al Ayyat. The fire raged
so hot that seven of the cars burned to the ground and hundreds of
bodies were reduced to ash. The official death count from the
Egyptian government was 383, but media sources estimated the true
number near 1000.
If one accepts the official report of the Egyptian tragedy,
Africa's deadliest train crash would instead be a derailment in
Ethiopia on January 14, 1985. Four cars of a five-car passenger
train plunged into a ravine at Awash, likely due to excessive speed
on a bridge. The accident killed approximately 428 and injured
nearly all the rest of the train's estimated 1,000 passengers.
What was the deadliest train crash in Europe?
Europe's deadliest train crash occurred in France during World
War I on December 12, 1917. A train of 19 passenger coaches was
coupled to a single steam locomotive because its second locomotive
was requested elsewhere for a munitions train. Only the first three
cars had air brakes, with the rest possessing hand brakes or no
brakes at all. The train was to carry 982 French soldiers home from
Italy for a 15-day leave during the holidays. The engineer initially
refused to operate the overloaded troop train but complied after
threats of military discipline.
The accident occurred on the Culoz–Modane Railway, sometimes
known as the Maurienne Valley Line. The engineer lost control of the
train after departing Modane. Descending a steep grade of over 3%,
the train accelerated to speeds over 80mph and the coaches derailed
shortly before the Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne station. The locomotive
remained on the rails and continued into the station. There, the
engineer picked up employees and soldiers and returned to the
accident site to assist in the recovery. The wooden coaches burned
for many hours, however, and the impact and resulting fire killed
more than 700 of the soldiers onboard.
What was the deadliest train crash in Asia?
Sri Lanka, 2004. See above: "What was the world's deadliest
What was the deadliest train crash in the South Pacific?
On December 24, 1953, a lahar (debris flow) resulting from the
1945 volcanic eruption of Mount Ruapehu washed away a railway bridge
span over the Whangaehu River near Waiouru, North Island, New
Zealand. Minutes later, the engine and first six cars of the
Wellington to Aukland overnight express train plunged into the
river, while the remaining five cars stayed on the track. Rescue
efforts were hindered by the remoteness of the bridge and the lahar
carrying railcars and bodies for miles. It is estimated that 155 of
the nearly 300 passengers perished.