List of rail accidents (before 1880)

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17th century[edit]


  • 1650, April and July[clarification needed]EnglandWhickham, County Durham. Two boys die when they are run down by a wagon on a wooden coal tramway. While such tramway accidents are not generally listed as rail accidents (note the lack of accidents listed for the next 150 years) this is sometimes cited as the earliest known railway accident.[1]

19th century[edit]




  • December 5, 1821 – United Kingdom – David Brook, a carpenter, is walking home from Leeds, Yorkshire along the Middleton Railway in a sleet storm when he is run over, with fatal results, by the steam engine of a coal train. This is the first case of a person being killed in a railway collision.[2]


  • 1827 – United Kingdom – An unnamed woman from Eaglescliffe, County Durham, England (believed to have been a blind beggar woman) is "killed by the steam machine on the railway". This is also said to be the first case of a person being killed in a railway collision, and the first case of a woman being killed.[3]






Suffolk, Virginia collision
  • August 11, 1837 – United States – The first head-on collision to result in passenger fatalities occurs on the Portsmouth and Roanoke Railroad near Suffolk, Virginia when an eastbound lumber train coming down a grade at speed rounds a sharp curve and smashes into the morning passenger train from Portsmouth, Virginia. The first three of the thirteen stagecoach-style cars are smashed, killing three daughters of the prominent Ely family and injuring dozens of the 200 on board. They are returning from a steamboat cruise when the accident happened. An engraving depicting the moment of impact was published in Howland's Steamboat Disasters and Railroad Accidents in 1840.






Versailles train disaster





The Dee bridge after its collapse
  • May 24, 1847 – United Kingdom – Five passengers are killed and nine are injured when the carriages of a Chester to Ruabon train falls 50 feet (15 m) into the River Dee following the collapse of a bridge. One of the supporting cast-iron girders had cracked in the centre and given way. The locomotive and tender manage to reach the other side of the bridge, which was engineered by Robert Stephenson. The accident causes his reputation to be questioned. The collapse leads to a re-evaluation of the use of cast-iron in railway bridges; many bridges have to be demolished or reinforced.


  • May 10, 1848 – United Kingdom – Six passengers are killed and thirteen are injured at Shrivenham, Berkshire when a Great Western Railway express train runs into two wagons on the line. The horse-box and cattle van had been pushed onto the main line by two porters to free a wagon turntable. Although the locomotive was undamaged, the side of the leading carriage was torn out.[12]







Norwalk River, Connecticut.



  • August 29, 1855 – United States – A southbound Camden and Amboy Rail Road passenger train, backing up on a single track near Burlington, New Jersey, to make room for a northbound express, hit a horse-drawn carriage. The rearmost passenger car derailed, and the succeeding cars crashed into hit, derailed, and plunged into a ditch. All four passengers cars were demolished. Twenty-four people died, and between 65 and 100 were injured.[19]
  • November 1, 1855 – United States – A bridge over the Gasconade River at Gasconade, Missouri collapses under a Pacific Railroad excursion train during the celebrations of the line's opening. Thirty-one people are killed and hundreds are seriously injured.
  • December 15, 1855 – United States – The boiler of the New York Central Railroad locomotive Dewitt Clinton explodes, killing the engineer and fireman.[20]


Camp Hill, Pennsylvania
  • July 17, 1856 – United States – Two North Pennsylvania Railroad passenger trains are in a head-on collision at Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Fifty-nine people are killed in the crash and subsequent fire, with over 100 people injured, some of whom consequently die. The conductor of one of the trains commits suicide the same day, although he is later absolved of any responsibility.



Round Oak.


South Bend, Indiana.




Wootton bridge after the crash



  • February 19, 1863 – United States – A Mississippi Southern train headed for the battlefield at Vicksburg, where the Confederate forces are in desperate need of reinforcements in the defence of the city against the assault of Sherman and the Union Army, derails on a damaged bridge and falls into an icy creek. At least 40 passengers killed, others drowned, some rescued from the water by soldiers of the First Battalion of Choctaw Indians, stationed nearby.


Immigrant train runs through an open swing bridge near Beloeil, Quebec.


Crash scene after the Staplehurst accident



Angola, New York
Bray, County Wicklow.
  • December 18, 1867 – United States – The Buffalo-bound New York Express of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern derails its last coach, and it plunges off a truss bridge into Big Sister Creek just after passing Angola, New York. The next car is also pulled from the track and rolls down the far embankment. Stoves set both coaches on fire and 49 are killed.
  • In 1867 – United Kingdom – A bridge collapses under a passenger train at Bray, County Wicklow.



  • April 23, 1869 – United StatesHollis, New York, United States: A Long Island Rail Road passenger train is derailed by a broken rail. The rail curls into a "snakehead" and rips out the bottom of one of the cars. Six people are killed and fourteen injured.[31]




Bangor, Maine
  • August 9, 1871 – United States – A bridge collapses under a Maine Central Railway passenger train at Bangor, Maine. One person is killed and 30 are injured.[35]
  • August 26, 1871 – United States – A series of dispatching errors allow the Eastern Railroad's Portland Express to run into the rear of a stalled local train at Revere, Massachusetts. The wreckage catches fire; 29 people are killed and 57 are injured. Several prominent Boston citizens are killed bringing much national publicity to the accident.



Wood River Junction


  • December 24, 1874 – United Kingdom – A Great Western Railway passenger train is derailed by a fractured wheel at Shipton-on-Cherwell, Oxfordshire. Thirty-four poople are killed and 69 are injured. The lack of continuous brakes and poor communications exacerbates the disaster.


  • July 6, 1875 – Chile – A bridge collapses beneath the overnight train between Valparaíso and Santiago in Chile, killing nine people.[37]
  • August 28, 1875 – United Kingdom – A passenger train overruns signals and is in a rear-end collision with an excursion train at Kildwick, Yorkshire. Seven people are killed and 39 are injured.[38]
Lagerlunda rail accident, 1875


Ashtabula Bridge collapse.



Tay Bridge collapse.
  • December 28, 1879 – United Kingdom – The Tay Rail Bridge collapses in a violent storm whilst a North British Railway passenger train is crossing it. There are no survivors, 60 people are known to have been killed, with the total estimated at 75 lives lost. The subsequent investigation concludes that "the bridge was badly designed, badly constructed and badly maintained" and lays the major blame on the designer, Sir Thomas Bouch. William McGonagall produces his epic poem The Tay Bridge Disaster to commemorate the event. The disaster shocks engineers into creating an improved crossing both on the Tay, as well as the famous Forth Bridge.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wragg 2004, p. 46.
  2. ^ Balkwill & Marshall 1993, p. 219.
  3. ^ "Corrections and clarifications". London: The Guardian. 21 June 2008. Retrieved 2 May 2009. 
  4. ^ Derrick 1930, pp. 83-84.
  5. ^ a b Hall 1990, p. 20.
  6. ^ Rolt & Kichenside 1982, p. 69.
  7. ^ Hall 1990, pp. 20-21.
  8. ^ Chandler 1977, p. page not cited.
  9. ^ Hall 1990, p. 23.
  10. ^ "Accident on the Dover Railway" The Times (London). Tuesday, 29 July 1845. (18988), col A, p. 5.
  11. ^ "FEARFUL AND FATAL ACCIDENT ON THE SOUTH EASTERN RAILWAY" The Times (London). Wednesday, 21 January 1846. (19139), col D, p. 5.
  12. ^ Rolt & Kichenside 1982, p. 176.
  13. ^ a b Hall 1990, p. 25.
  14. ^ a b Hall 1990, p. 26.
  15. ^ "Accident on the South-Eastern Railway" The Times (London). Thursday, 7 October 1852. (21240), col C, p. 7.
  16. ^ Earnshaw 1990, p. 2.
  17. ^ L. Wright (Photographer): Train wreck on the Providence Worcester Railroad near to Pawtucket, August 12, 1853, Rochester: George Eastman House; Photo: Trains! at The George Eastman House,
  18. ^ Vaughan 2003, p. 7.
  19. ^ Sinclair, Donald A. (10:2 (1947)). "Railroad Accident at Burlington in 1855". The Journal of the Rutgers University Library. pp. 46–54. 
  20. ^ Frank Leslie. "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper (1855-1922) (reprint)". 
  21. ^ "Fatal Railway Accident" The Times (London). Monsday, 23 June 1856. (22401), col B, p. 7.
  22. ^ Shepard 1857, pp. 1-52.
  23. ^ Trevena 1980, p. 7.
  24. ^ "THE ACCIDENT ON THE ERIE RAILWAY". The New York Times. August 22, 1864. Retrieved May 29, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Fatal Railroad accident". The Sunbury American. September 24, 1864. Retrieved May 29, 2014. 
  26. ^ "RAILROAD DISASTERS.; Frightful Accident on the Pennsylvania Railroad Twenty Persons Killed and Injured. SECOND DISPATCH. FURTHER PARTICULARS.". The New York Times. September 22, 1864. Retrieved May 29, 2014. 
  27. ^ Abdill 1959, p. 159.
  28. ^ Jackson 1986, pp. 65-66.
  29. ^ Hall 1990, p. 37.
  30. ^ Trevena 1980, p. 8.
  31. ^ "Willow Tree Station". Arrt's Arrchives. Retrieved 1 June 2014. 
  32. ^ Hall 1990, pp. 38-39.
  33. ^ a b c Hall 1990, p. 40.
  34. ^ Perillo, John (January 3, 1990). Southern Dutchess News
  35. ^ Beitler, Stu. "Bangor, ME Train Through Bridge, Aug 1871". GenDisasters. Retrieved 1 June 2014. 
  36. ^ Grantham Journal. 5 April 1873. 
  37. ^ Hurtado, Julio. "La ruta fatal" (in Spanish). El Mercurio del Valparaiso. Retrieved 1 June 2014. 
  38. ^ Hall 1990, pp. 50-51.
  39. ^ Bengtsson 2007, pp. 213-15.
  40. ^ Hall 1990, pp. 47-48.
  41. ^ Rich & Whitehurst 1994, p. 29.
  42. ^ Hall 1990, p. 48.
  43. ^ Hoole 1983, p. 13.
  44. ^ Trevena 1981, p. 4.


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  • Rolt, L.T.C.; Kichenside, Geoffrey (1982) [1955]. Red for Danger (4th ed.). Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 978-0-7153-8362-9. 
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  • Shepard, W. A. (1857). Full Details of the Railway Disaster of the 12th of March, 1857, at the Desjardin Canal on the Line of the Great Western Railway. W.A. Shepard. 
  • Trevena, Arthur (1980). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 1. Redruth: Atlantic Books. ISBN 0-906899-01-X. 
  • Trevena, Arthur (1981). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 2. Redruth: Atlantic Books. ISBN 0-906899-03-6. 
  • Vaughan, Adrian (2003) [2000]. Tracks to Disaster. Hersham: Ian Allan. ISBN 0 7110 2985 7. 
  • Wragg, David (2004). Signal Failure: Politics & Britain's Railways. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7509-3293-6. 

External links[edit]