Train Accident: Just Waiting to Happen

train down

Oddly enough it’s not until modern times that the ubiquitous railroad has resulted in train accidents. There were not many passenger deaths due to a train accident until 1853 since there were not many trains in existence at the time and they moved slowly, traveling only short distances. After this era, trains subsequently became more modernized with faster speeds and became more frequently used for transporting materials and travel. A train accident can be caused by numerous reasons including explosions, human error, derailments, head long collisions with another train or bridge collapses. Train accidents have been frequently seen in movies since the beginning days of cinema as part of many an action plot but in reality, they are not to be taken lightly. An out of control train takes on a life of its own and becomes unstoppable. Passengers can do very little and are often either tossed around inside the carriages or thrown outside from the speeding train.There’s a reason for  the phrase, “She/he is a train wreck” implying the person is a mess.

Deadly train accidents are messy and have happened all around the world in various countries and the worse accidents generally occur in third world nations. However, the U.S. has also seen its share of fatalistic train accidents, most recently with two tragic crashes happening on both coasts in February 2015. On February 3, around 6:30 pm, a crowded commuter Metro North Railroad train traveling during rush hour hit a Jeep Cherokee that was sitting on the tracks in Westchester County, just outside of New York City. The female driver of the Jeep and six train passengers were killed and the fiery crash created an explosion that injured dozens of passengers while hundreds others had to be evacuated. It was the worse accident in Metro North history. Then, two weeks later around 5:40 am on February 25th in Oxnard, California, a commuter Metrolink train hit a large Ford-450 pickup truck that was stuck on the tracks. The truck was hauling a trailer and the driver was initially arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run but later released pending further investigation. Some passengers sustained minor injuries but the engineer of the Metrolink train later died after suffering several heart attacks after the crash.


If the definition of worst train accident means the most number of fatalities, then we have to go back into history. On November 1, 1918, a commuter train derailed in a tunnel and crashed into a concrete partition under Malbone Street (now Empire Blvd) in Brooklyn, New York. 102 people died and it was revealed that the crash was due to an inexperienced engineer who was filling in for colleagues who had gone on strike. Strangely, years later, in 1974, a train crashed in the same spot but luckily this time there were no injuries or deaths. The train disaster on the list with the second most deaths happened on August 7, 1904 when an express train traveling from Colorado Springs to Pueblo, Colorado was derailed while crossing a bridge in heavy rains. A flash flood forced the bridge to collapse and several train cars fell into the water. Only two dozen people survived while 96 died. Amazingly, the bridge was repaired immediately and less than 24 hours later, trains were running on the same route while wreckage from the accident floated below.


dead elephant

The worst train accident ever with the most deaths occurred during one of the biggest disasters in history. An overloaded passenger train called Queen of the Sea crashed in Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004 when the Indian Ocean Tsunami struck. The train was 217 yards from the shore when the first gigantic wave stopped it. The second, larger wave tore the train off its track and rolled 8 carriages, causing the deaths of 1700 passengers and local residents who had climbed onto the train thinking it would be a safe haven from the tsunami. The second most fatalistic train accident happened during India’s monsoon season. On June 6th 1981, a nine-car passenger train that was carrying around 1,000 passengers was crossing a bridge over the Baghmati River plunged into the water. Reports vary has to what caused the train accident; one story is that a cyclone and faulty brakes caused the derailment. Another account is that the engineer braked too hard in an attempt to avoid hitting a cow that had crossed the tracks and the train slid on the wet tracks. It’s a fact cows are considered sacred in India but even for religious purposes, this explanation seems rather far fetched. The third most fatalistic train accident happened on December 12, 1917, when almost 1,000 French soldiers, returning home for the Christmas season, died when their train’s nineteen carriages failed to brake as they descended down the Alps. Because of a shortage in locomotives, the soldiers were packed onto two trains pulled by one engine. When the engineer applied the brakes, the train kept gathering speed, overheating the brakes. Fire broke out and the carriages slammed into each other and derailed. The fire was so intense only 425 bodies out of the 1,000 passengers could be identified.