The deadliest train wrecks in US history

Shayne Jacopian for – @ShayneJacopian

Just a few days ago, on Tuesday, May 12, an Amtrak passenger train derailed in Philadelphia, killing seven and injuring over 200.

The train was traveling twice the speed limit, though investigators don’t know yet if excessive speed was the sole cause of the crash, or if track conditions and mechanical issues in the train contributed to the wreck.

This wasn’t the first train-related disaster to occur in Philadelphia, though. On September 6, 1943, a train traveling from Washington D.C. to New York city crashed when an axle overheated and snapped, causing eight of the train’s 16 cars to derail, and killing 50 people.

The 1943 crash was only half as fatal as some of the United States’ worst train disasters, however. Here are the five most fatal train wrecks in United States history.

5. Ashtabula River Railroad Disaster

deadliest train wrecks

Wood engraving published in Harper's Weekly, January 20, 1877. (Credit: Wikipedia)

This passenger train crash was caused by the failure of a bridge on December 29, 1876 not even a quarter mile from the train station in Ashtabula, Ohio. Plunging into the river below, cars were ignited by their heating stoves, with 92 passengers dying from various causes.

It turned out that the bridge, inadequately designed and built by the railroad company, was faulty. As a result of this crash, a federal system was set up to formally investigate crashes resulting in death and injury to passengers.

4. Malbone Street Wreck

deadliest train wrecks

Malbone Street Wreck. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Occurring on November 1, 1918, this crash resulted from a train taking a curve in a tunnel with a speed limit of six miles per hour at a speed of 30 to 40 MPH. Devastating half of the train’s cars and causing surprisingly minor damage to the others, the crash left at least 93 dead, with the train’s inexperienced operator making it out uninjured.

3. Great Wellington Train Disaster

deadliest train wrecks

Train wreckage caused by the avalanche. (Credit: Wikipedia)

This March 1, 1910 disaster was not caused by operator error or any sort of mechanical failure, but rather, an avalanche hitting multiple trains at around 1:00 a.m., when most passengers and crew-members were asleep. The trains were thrown 150 feet downhill into a valley, killing a total of 96 people.

2. Eden Train Wreck

Another incident caused by natural phenomena, a flash flood wave swept away half of a train en route to St. Louis, Missouri on August 7, 1904, dragging 97 passengers and crew-members to their deaths just eight miles north of Pueblo, Colorado.

1. Great Train Wreck of 1918

The most deadly train-related catastrophe to ever occur in the United States happened right here in redOrbit’s home of Nashville, Tennessee on July 9, 1918, when two trains, one leaving Nashville for Memphis and another arriving in Nashville from Memphis, collided head-on. One hundred and one passengers died in the incident. Investigators attributed the accident to “serious errors” made by crew-members aboard the train departing Nashville and by tower operators for failing to account for the fact that there was another train in the way. The feature image at the top of the story is from this wreck.


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