Great Revere train wreck of 1871

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Great Revere train wreck of 1871
Date August 26, 1871
Location Revere, Massachusetts
Country United States
Rail line Eastern Railroad
Deaths 29—32

The Great Revere train wreck of 1871 occurred on the evening of August 26, 1871, when the Eastern Railroad's Portland Express slammed into the rear of a stopped local train at Revere, Massachusetts.

The accident occurred on a very busy Saturday evening with three large weekend events taking place in Boston causing heavier than usual traffic on the railroads, especially on the Eastern Railroad's line. Normally, the Eastern ran 152 trains on weekend days, but with two large revivals and military muster taking place, the number of trains running to accommodate the extra load of passengers was increased to 192.

Woodcut of the Revere station, made shortly after the accident

The heavy traffic and the Eastern's management's conservative style of not using the telegraph to dispatch trains, led to long delays along the line. Around 8:30 in the evening and running over 25 minutes late, the engineer of the express train believed he had clear track ahead and was traveling at 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour) as he approached the Revere Station. The local commuter train, also running several minutes behind schedule, pulled onto the main line from the East Boston Branch and made its scheduled stop at Revere.

It was very dark that night and the engineer of the express thought the lights on the rear car were from the stations lamps. Suddenly, his head light caught the rear car and he whistled for brakes, but they were primitive hand brakes and couldn't hold on the slippery track. The express managed to slow to 10 miles per hour (16 km/h), but it wasn't enough as it slammed into the stopped local, telescoping the rear cars. The scene of the accident was horrific. The express train’s steam boiler burst and about a dozen people were either crushed to death by the boiler or scalded by the escaping hot water.[1] Some passengers that were trapped in the splintered rear coaches were burned alive as coal-oil lamps ignited the wreckage and 29 people died (some sources say 32), while several others were injured. Bystanders from the station and surviving passengers attempted to rescue trapped victims by tearing parts of the roof off the coaches, but their effort was unsuccessful as fire quickly engulfed the shattered timbers. After the accident some Bostonians accused the Eastern Railroad of deliberately murdering the passengers.

The railroad was condemned by the public for their conservative management, old fashioned equipment, not having the Westinghouse air brakes on their locomotives and their insistence on using the old time-interval system and not using the telegraph. Several lawsuits were filed against the Eastern and the company almost went bankrupt. This eventually led to the Eastern being merged with its rival, the Boston and Maine Railroad in 1884.

The accident remains the most deadly train wreck in the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the second worst train accident in all of New England.[citation needed]



  • Reed, Robert C. (1968). Train Wrecks - A Pictorial History of Accidents on the Main Line. New York: Bonanza Books. ISBN 0-517-32897-6. 
  • Karr, Ronald D. (1995). The Rail Lines of Southern New England - A Handbook of Railroad History. Branch Line Press. ISBN 0-942147-02-2. 

Coordinates: 42°24′19.85″N 71°0′13.28″W / 42.4055139°N 71.0036889°W / 42.4055139; -71.0036889