The story of the train that broke through a building in Paris in 1895

Train_wreck_at_Montparnasse_1895

This famous photo of a crashed train engine leaning against a building is often seen on posters warning people to plan carefully. The photo was taken on 22 October 1895 at the Gare Montparnasse in Paris. It is commonly referred to as the Montparnasse derailment.

At 4:00pm that day the Granville–Paris Express ran through the bumper at the end of the track. (Here are photos of track bumpers, also known as buffer stops.) The train was running late, so the driver was going faster than usual. Unfortunately, the Westinghouse air brake failed. After breaking through the bumper, the train skidded across the concourse and broke through the two-foot thick station wall. The engine fell 30 feet to the street, ending up as you see in the photo. None of the 131 passengers died, but six people were injured and one woman in the street died when she was hit by falling debris. The woman was working at a newsstand at the time. The railway company supported the woman’s two children.

The passenger cars were completely undamaged. Ten men used a winch to lower the locomotive, which was taken to a repair station. An inspection revealed only minor damage.

The crash was beautifully recreated in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. Here’s the clip, along with some behind the scenes footage of the making of the models and special effects:

A similar train accident occurred around the same era in Hartford, CT.

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