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Five of the Worst Train Wrecks in History

Two recent train wrecks – one in Quebec and one in France – have brought more attention than usual to railway accidents. The accident in Quebec, which killed at least 28, has sparked sympathy from across the globe. Investigators are still trying to determine how the train began moving toward the town of Lac-Megantic without anyone realizing it. Just a few days later, a train derailed just outside Paris, killing six. Investigations of this accident are just beginning, but experts believe a faulty switch was to blame. These accidents both seem to be the result of human error, but it is interesting to note that there are many causes of train accidents; some are caused by humans, and some are the result of natural disaster. Here is a look at five of the worst train crashes in history and their causes.


1. The first deadly train crash occurred on November 8, 1833 on the Camden and Amboy Railroad in New Jersey. The journal box, or hot box, of the 24-passenger train overheated and caught fire, causing one of the axles to break. The train derailed, killing two and injuring all but one of the passengers. Among the passengers were Cornelius Vanderbilt and past U.S. President John Quincy Adams, the only one to escape injury.

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2. The deadliest train crash in history occurred in Sri Lanka in 2004. The crash was the result of the huge tsunami that struck Asia and eastern Africa, killing more than 225,000 people. Within that larger disaster, one of the deadliest occurrences was the derailment of the Queen of the Sea train, which killed nearly 2,000 people in the town of Paraliya.


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3. The worst train accident in U.S. history occurred in Nashville, TN on July 9, 1918. The collision of a local train and an express train, which killed 121 and injured 57, was clearly the result of human error, though no one knows exactly what happened. Historians speculate that the express train, which would normally have the right of way, was running late, so the local train decided that it had time to go through on the track. The engineer got the all-clear signal from the tower, but at Dutchman’s Curve, the two trains collided with deadly impact.


4. The worst Amtrak crash in America was the Big Bayou Canot Train Crash in Mobile, Alabama on September 22, 1993. A barge, being pushed by a tugboat, struck the swing bridge that crossed Big Bayou Canot. The tugboat captain, who was not trained in reading his radar, had become disoriented in the fog. Although he knew the boat had hit something, he assumed the barge had run aground. Just as the barge struck, the Amtrak train, en route from Los Angles to Florida, crossed the bridge and derailed, killing 47 and injuring 103.


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5. The worst train crash in Europe occurred on December 12, 1917 when a train carrying 1,000 French soldiers from the trenches to their homes for Christmas derailed, killing at least 700. Because of the war, there was a train shortage, so military officers decided to link two trains to one engine. Of the 19 train cars, only three had air brakes while the rest had hand brakes or none at all. At first, the engineer refused to take control of a train he deemed unsafe, but he agreed after threats of military action being taken against him. While going down a steep grade, he lost control of the train and derailed, causing a massive fire. For years, the accident was a classified military secret.


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Fortunately, train accidents are few and far between, and for the most part, railway journeys are an exceptionally
safe way to travel. However, for the victims of train accidents and their families, derailments, railway fires, bridge
collapses, and the like are tragedies. When accidents are caused by human error, as the recent incidents in Quebec
and France may have been, the events can be even more devastating because they were the unnecessary result of
negligence and carelessness.


About the Author:

Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphy. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”-an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state-and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”