The World’s Worst Railroad Disasters
The earliest recorded rail deaths may have occurred in 1650 in Whickham, England, when two boys were killed by a wagon on a wood coal tramway. In 1815, also in England, 13 – 16 people were killed by a boiler explosion of the experimental locomotive “Brunton’s Mechanical Traveller”. Since then, things have gotten worse. Here are the worst rail disasters of all time, listed by number of deaths. Note that a great many of these occurred in times of war, when large numbers of people were being transported by rail.
Queen of the Sea Rail Disaster
Sri Lanka, 24 December 2004
Stuck by a tsunami wave created by the Indian Ocean earthquake, the Queen of the Sea was caught in the rising waters. Believing that it would be safe from the wave, hundreds of locals climbed aboard. Unfortunately, it was swept away, and 1,700 were killed. The victims primarily were in the eight cars, where they were unable to open the doors and drowned.
Bihar Rail Disaster
India, 6 June 1981
800 – 1,000+ Deaths
A passenger train carrying at least 800 derailed on a bridge and plunged into the Bagmati River. Only 200 bodies were recovered.
Frejus Railway Disasters aka Modane Train Disaster
Near Modane, France, 12 December 1917
600 – 1,000 deaths
An overloaded train carrying 800 – 1000 French soldiers returning home from North East Italy during World War I suffered brake failure and crashed while descending into a valley. As a result of the fire and wreckage, only 425 of the bodies could be identified.
Ciurea Rail Disaster
Ciurea Station, Romania 13 January 1817
600 – 1,000
During the First World War, a train carrying as many as 1,000 passengers—mostly soldiers and civilians fleeing a German advance—suffered brake failure on a 6.7% grade. To avoid collision with a second train at the bottom, the runaway was switched onto a loop. The runaway train derailed and caught fire.
Guadalajara Train Disaster
Guadalajara, Mexico, 22 January 1915
In the midst of the Mexican Revolution, a train carrying the families of the troops of Venustiano Carranza left Colima for Guadalajara. The train lost its brakes on a steep descent, jumped the tracks and plunged into a canyon. Some 300 survived.
Ufa Train Diaster
Near Asha, in the Soviet Union 4 June 1989
575 – 645 killed
Two passing trains carrying children on holiday to the Black Sea threw sparks near a leaky liquid petroleum gas pipeline. The resulting explosion—the equivalent of the Hiroshima bomb—killed at least 575 and wounded 700 others.
Balvano Train Disaster
near Balvano, Italy 2/3 March 1944
After a train stalled on a steep gradient in the Armi tunnel, carbon monoxide fumes from its engines killed 426, many riding the train illegally. The carbon monoxide was exacerbated by the poor grade coal used as a result of war shortages.
Torre del Bierzo Rail Disaster
near Torro del Bierzo, Spein 3 January 1944
The collision of three trains in a tunnel left more than 500 dead. Official counts at the time were much lower for political reasons
Awash Rail Disaster
between Arba and Khora, Ethiopia 14 January 1985
High speed led to a derailment of four of the trains’s five cars as it rounded a curve on a bridge across a ravine. Of the 1,000 on board, 428 were killed and 500 injured.
Al Ayyat Train Disaster
Between Cairo and Luxor, Egypt 20 February 2002
at least 383 deaths
A cooking gas cylinder explosion set the train on fire, burning seven third class carriages to cinders. There was no passenger list, so estimates run to as high as 1,000 deaths on the grossly overcrowded train.