List of rail accidents (before 1880)

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Before 1800[edit]


  • 1650, April and July – Whickham, County Durham, England. Two boys die when they are run down by a wagon on a wooden coal tramway.[1]

19th century[edit]




  • December 5, 1821 – David Brook, a carpenter, is walking home from Leeds 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.[3]


  • 1827 – An unnamed woman from Eaglescliffe, Teesside, 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.[4]








Suffolk, Virginia collision
  • August 11, 1837 – Suffolk, Virginia, United States: First head-on collision to result in passenger fatalities occurs on the Portsmouth and Roanoke Railroad near Suffolk 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. First three of thirteen stagecoach-style cars are smashed, killing three daughters of the prominent Ely family and injuring dozens of the 200 on board. They were 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.


  • August 7, 1838 – Harrow train accident, Harrow, Middlesex, England: From a memorial in the parish churchyard of Harrow-on-the-Hill, "To the memory of Thomas Port, son of John Port of Burton-upon-Trent in the County of Stafford, Hat Manufacturer, who near this town had both legs severed from his body by the railway train. With great fortitude he bore a second amputation by the surgeons and died from loss of blood, August 7th 1838, aged 33 years."



  • August 7, 1840 – Howden rail crash, England: four passengers killed when a casting fell from a wagon and derailed carriages.
  • November 10, 1840 – Bromsgrove, England: two employees of the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway lost their lives when the boiler on a 2-2-0 steam locomotive "Surprise" exploded.[citation needed]


  • October 5, 1841, two Western Railroad passenger trains collided head-on between Worcester, Massachusetts and Albany, New York. A conductor and a passenger were killed and seventeen passengers were injured.[6]
  • December 24, 1841 – Sonning Cutting accident, England: nine passengers killed and seventeen injured when a Paddington to Bristol train ran into a landslide caused by heavy rain. The extent of the casualties in this accident called into question the practice of mixing passenger and freight wagons in fast trains. The dead were stonemasons travelling in open wagons, so had no protection from either accidents or the weather, and the accident led to a public outcry, and new legislation which insisted on better carriages for passengers.


Versailles train disaster
  • May 8, 1842 – Meudon (Versailles rail accident), France: Following the King's fete celebrations at the Palace of Versailles, a train returning to Paris crashed at Meudon after the leading locomotive broke an axle. The train derailed and caught fire. 55 passengers were trapped in the carriages and killed, including the explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville. This led to the abandonment of the then-common practice of locking passengers in their carriages in France.



  • July 28, 1845 - a passenger train was run into by a steam locomotive at Penshurst, Kent, England, injuring about 30 people.[7]



The Dee bridge after its collapse
  • May 24, 1847 – Chester, England: Five passengers killed and many injured when the carriages of a Chester to Ruabon train fell 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 engine and tender managed to reach the other side of the bridge. The bridge was engineered by Robert Stephenson, and the accident caused his reputation to be questioned. The Dee bridge disaster led to a re-evaluation of the use of cast-iron in railway bridges, and many new bridges had to be demolished or reinforced.


  • May 10, 1848, – Shrivenham station, England: Great Western Railway Six passengers were killed and 13 injured after two porters pushed a horse-box and cattle van onto the main line to free a waggon turntable. The Exeter express struck them; although the locomotive was undamaged the side of the leading coach was torn out.[9]



  • April 30, 1851 – Sutton Tunnel railway accident, Cheshire, England: Two trains returning from the Chester Cup horse race lost adhesion in the tunnel and a third train crashed into the rear of the second train, killing nine people and injuring 30–40.



  • January 6, 1853 – Andover, Massachusetts, United States: The Boston & Maine noon express, traveling from Boston to Lawrence, Massachusetts, derails at forty miles an hour when an axle breaks at Andover, and the only coach goes down an embankment and breaks in two. Only one is killed, the eleven-year-old son of President-elect Franklin Pierce, but it is initially reported that Pierce is also a fatality. He was on board but is only badly bruised. The baggage car and the locomotive remain on the track. President Pierce's inaugural ball is cancelled as the family grieves over the loss of their son.[citation needed]
  • January 23, 1853 – Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, United States: One person lost after the caboose was detached from train cars around the Mason–Dixon line in a forest during a blizzard. Conductor B.A.Stells was lost. Train car and conductor were never found. Railway was broken down in 1864.[citation needed]
  • March 4, 1853 – Mount Union, Pennsylvania, United States: A Pennsylvania Railroad emigrant train stalls on the main line with engine problems in the Allegheny Mountains near Mount Union, and when the brakeman sent to flag protect the rear of the stopped train falls asleep in a shanty, an oncoming mail train shatters the rear car, killing seven, most by scalding from steam from the engine's ruptured boiler, the highest single U.S. accident toll up to this time.[citation needed]
  • April 16, 1853 – Cheat River, Virginia, United States: Two Baltimore & Ohio passenger cars tumble down a hundred foot ravine above the Cheat River in Virginia (now West Virginia), west of Cumberland, Maryland, after they are derailed by a loose rail.[citation needed]
  • April 25, 1853 – Chicago, United States: An eastbound Michigan Central Railroad express bound for Toledo, Ohio, rams a Michigan Southern Railroad emigrant train at level Grand Crossing on the city's South Side at night. Twenty-one German emigrants are killed. The Michigan Southern engineer, who was running without a headlight, could have avoided the accident by either observing a stop signal or by accelerating his train, but did neither. Grand Crossing will be grade-separated after this accident.[citation needed]
  • May 6, 1853 – Norwalk rail accident, Connecticut, United States: First major U.S. railroad bridge disaster occurs when a New Haven Railroad engineer neglects to check for open drawbridge signal. The locomotive and four and one half cars run through the open drawbridge and plunge into the Norwalk River. Forty-six passengers are crushed to death or drowned and some thirty others are severely injured.
  • August 12, 1853 – in the village of Valley Falls in the town of Cumberland, Rhode Island, United States: Thirteen passengers are killed and fifty injured in a head-on collision on the main line of the Providence and Worcester Railroad between a southbound seven-car excursion train with 475 on board, bound for Narragansett Bay via Providence, and a two-car train northbound from Providence to Worcester. They collided at the Valley Falls station, north of Pawtucket. Believed to be the earliest wreck photographed, with the daguerreotype taken by a Mr. L. Wright of Pawtucket forming the basis for an engraving a fortnight later in the New York Illustrated News.[11]
  • October 5, 1853 – Straffan rail accident, Ireland; In a thick fog at twilight the engine of a Dublin-bound passenger train fails with a broken piston rod. The fireman is instructed to warn a following goods train, and to instruct the driver of the goods to proceed so as to push the passenger train into Dublin. Instead the goods train approaches at full speed, wrecking the passenger train and killing 18 people. The driver, fireman and guard of the passenger train are later arrested for failing to use a red light and detonators to protect their train.
  • December 1853 – Secaucus, New Jersey, United States: The same two trains that crashed on May 9, 1853, a Paterson and Hudson River Railroad emigrant train and an Erie Railroad express, collide again, within one mile (1.6 km) of last spring's wreck site near Secaucus. A brakeman and one passenger die, 24 others are injured.[citation needed]



  • November 1, 1855 – Gasconade, Missouri, United States: With more than 600 passengers aboard a Pacific Railroad excursion train celebrating the railway line's opening, a bridge collapsed above the Gasconade River, and the locomotive plus 12 of the 13 attached cars plunged into the water and embankment below. 31 people died and hundreds were seriously injured. Known as the Gasconade Bridge train disaster.
  • December 15, 1855 – Massachusetts/New Hampshire, United States: The locomotive Dewitt Clinton, the third built in the United States, exploded on the Worcester and Nashua Railroad, killing the engineer and fireman.[12]


  • July 17, 1856 – Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, United States: In one of the most infamous train wrecks to ever occur in the USA and the deadliest in the world up to that time, two North Pennsylvania Railroad trains, one of them carrying 1,500 Sunday School children to a picnic, collide. Upon impact, the boiler of the passenger train explodes and the train carrying the children derails. 59 are instantly killed, and dozens more die from their injuries. The conductor of the passenger train commits suicide the same day, although he is later absolved of any responsibility. Also known as the Great Train Wreck of 1856.






  • September 6, 1860 – Helmshore rail accident, Lancashire, England; eleven killed when 16 carriages broke away from an excursion train and ran back into the following train.
  • September 26, 1860 - Bull bridge accident
  • November 16, 1860 – Atherstone rail accident; ten killed when cattle train was struck from rear by a mail train; most of the deaths were of Irish drovers asleep in the guards van at the rear of the cattle train.


Wootton bridge after the crash



  • February 19, 1863 – Chunky Creek Train Wreck of 1863; 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 in 1864
  • June 29, 1864 – Beloeil, Canada East: 99 killed when an immigrant train failed to stop at an open swing bridge and fell into the Richelieu River. May also be called St-Hilaire train disaster. As of 2014 this still stands as the rail accident with the largest death toll in Canada.
  • July 15, 1864 – The Shohola train wreck kills over 60 people in a head-on collision between a coal train and a train carrying Confederate prisoners-of-war.
  • August 16, 1864 - Emigrant Train Accident on The Erie Railway between Turner's Station, now Harriman, NY and Sloatsburg, NY. Six emigrants and a conductor killed when a freight train collided into the rear of the emigrant train en route to Chicago from Jersey City.
  • September 21, 1864 - Accident at Thompsontown PA injures 13 and kills at least 6 when an eastbound Pennsylvania RR passsenger train ran into the rear of a stopped freight train on the same track. The wreck and fire destroyed several cars, at least one of which was locked, preventing passengers from escaping.


Crash scene after the Staplehurst accident
  • June 7, 1865 – Rednal rail crash: The driver of a 32-carriage excursion train fails to spot a flag warning of ballast work ahead. The train derails on unsupported track.
  • June 9, 1865 – Staplehurst rail crash: A train falls into a stream after track workers misread a timetable and remove a rail. 10 killed and 49 injured. Charles Dickens is amongst the survivors.


  • April 30, 1866 – Collision of a passenger train travelling from Brighton to London Bridge with a goods train on an embankment north of Caterham Junction station, caused by a signalling error. 2 passengers and 2 railwaymen killed and a number of passengers injured.[citation needed]
  • August 27, 1866 – Boiler explosion on the Petaluma and Haystack Railroad at Petaluma Station kills the engineer and three others, and wrecks the railroad's only locomotive.[15]
  • December 19, 1866 – During construction of the new Smithfield Market building adjacent to an open-air section of the Metropolitan Railway in London, a girder falls onto a passing train and 3 passengers are killed. This is the first fatal accident to an underground (subway) train.[16]


  • December 18, 1867 – Angola, New York, United States: the Angola Horror - 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. The next car is also pulled from the track and rolls down the far embankment. Stoves set both coaches on fire and around fifty are killed. Forty more are injured.



  • April 23, 1869 - Hollis, New York, United States: Three car Long Island Rail Road train derails after hitting a broken rail which curls into a "snakehead" and rips out the bottom of one of the cars. Six dead, and 14 injured.[17]



  • June 21, 1870 – Newark rail crash, England: A freight train axle breaks, and an excursion train collides with the debris; 18 killed.
  • September 12, 1870 – Stairfoot rail accident, England: A runaway freight train collides with a passenger train standing in a station, 15 killed.


Bangor, Maine 1871


  • October 2, 1872 – Kirtlebridge rail crash, Scotland: Scotch express collided with goods train performing shunting operations in the station, 12 killed.


Wood River Jct. accident, 1873
  • March 30, 1873 Bourne, Lincolnshire an excursion returning from London in the early hours of Sunday ran into two carriages in the platform line. No-one was seriously injured but the carriages and crossing-gates were destroyed.[20]
  • April 19, 1873 – Wood River Junction (formerly Richmond Switch), Richmond, Rhode Island: the Wood River Branch of the New York, Providence and Boston Railroad train-bridge washaway and fire of passenger cars; 11 killed/22 injured, with some bodies swept downstream and unaccounted for.[citation needed]
  • August 2, 1873 – Wigan rail crash; rearmost five carriages (of 22) of a "holiday special" train travelling north to Scotland are derailed while passing through Wigan North Western railway station due to excessive speed. 13 killed, 30 injured. The front portion of the train later continues its journey, with some passengers unaware of what had occurred to the rear portion.


Shipton train crash 1874
  • January 27, 1874 – Bo'ness Junction rail crash, Scotland: 16 killed when Scotch express collided with a goods train.
  • September 10, 1874 – Thorpe rail accident, Norfolk, England: Head-on collision on single line track, in which 25 were killed and more than 100 injured. The cause was administrative error which led to both trains being given permission to run in opposite directions at the same time. The accident led directly to the introduction of automatic control systems to manage traffic on single-track railways.
  • December 24, 1874 – Shipton-on-Cherwell train crash, Oxford, England: Derailment of passenger train caused by fractured wheel kills 34; lack of continuous brakes and poor communications exacerbates disaster.


Lagerlunda rail accident, 1875



  • January 14, 1878 – Tariffville, Connecticut, United States: A double-headed ten-car Connecticut Western Railroad special train of the faithful, returning from a revival held in Hartford, crosses the Tariffville Bridge over the Farmington River near midnight, and the structure collapses. Both locomotives and the first four cars plunge into the ice-covered river, killing seventeen and injuring 43.[citation needed]
  • January 30, 1878 – Emu Plains, New South Wales, Australia: Two goods trains collide at Emu Plains when the guard of the train heading east went down the Lapstone Zig Zag instead of waiting for the train from Penrith to come up first. Five people were killed.[citation needed]
  • May 21, 1878 - Bennett, Colorado aka "Kiowa Crossing". A Kansas Pacific railway train lost in a washout; 3 killed.[citation needed]


Fallen Tay Bridge from the north
  • December 28, 1879 – Scotland: The Tay Bridge disaster. The Tay Rail Bridge collapses in a violent storm while a train is crossing it. The train falls into the water, leaving no survivors: 75 lives are estimated lost (60 victims' names are known of whom about 46 remains were recovered). 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. ^ David Wragg (2004), Signal Failure: Politics & Britain's Railways, p. 46. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7509-3293-6. Cited as the earliest known railway accident.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Richard Balkwill; John Marshall (1993). The Guinness Book of Railway Facts and Feats (6th ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 219. ISBN 978-0-85112-707-1. 
  4. ^ "Corrections and clarifications". London: The Guardian. 2008-06-21. Retrieved 2009-02-05. 
  5. ^ Derrick, Samuel Melanchthon, "Centennial History of South Carolina Railroad", The State Company, Columbia, South Carolina, 1930, pages 83-84.
  6. ^ [Chandler, Alfred D., Jr.] 1977, The Visible Hand, Cambridge, Mass. and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
  7. ^ "Accident on the Dover Railway" The Times (London). Tuesday, 29 July 1845. (18988), col A, p. 5.
  8. ^ "FEARFUL AND FATAL ACCUDENT ON THE SOUTH EASTERN RAILWAY" The Times (London). Wednesday, 21 January 1846. (19139), col D, p. 5.
  9. ^ Rolt, L.T.C.; Kichenside, Geoffrey (1982) [1955]. "Chapter 8 - Stray Wagons and Breakaways". Red for Danger (4th ed.). Newton Abbot: David & Charles. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-7153-8362-9. 
  10. ^ "Accident on the South-Eastern Railway" The Times (London). Thursday, 7 October 1852. (21240), col C, p. 7.
  11. ^ 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,
  12. ^ Frank Leslie. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper (1855-1922) (reprint). 
  13. ^ "Fatal Railway Accident" The Times (London). Monsday, 23 June 1856. (22401), col B, p. 7.
  14. ^ 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. 1857. 
  15. ^ George B. Abdill (1959), Pacific Slope Railroads, p. 159. Seattle: Superior Publishing.
  16. ^ Alan A. Jackson (1986). London's Metropolitan Railway. Newton Abbot, England: David & Charles. pp. 65–66. ISBN 0-7153-8839-8. 
  17. ^ Willow Tree Station, including Willow Tree Disaster (Arrt's Arrchives)
  18. ^ Perillo, John (January 3, 1990). Southern Dutchess News
  19. ^ GenDisasters
  20. ^ Grantham Journal. 5 April 1873. 
  21. ^ La ruta fatal
  22. ^ Bengtsson, Bengt-Arne (2007). Från Östra stambanan till Ostlänken/Götalandsbanan (in Swedish). Mjölby: Atremi. pp. 213–215. ISBN 978-91-85487-63-9. 
  23. ^ "The Pickens Sentinel, Pickens Court House, South Carolina, 1872-1893, Historical and Genealogical Abstracts, Volume 1, compiled by Peggy Burton Rich and Marion Ard Whitehurst, Heritage Books, Inc., Bowie, Maryland, 1994, ISBN 978-1-55613-985-7, page 29.


External links[edit]