Train wreck at Montparnasse Station, 1895

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Train that has smashed through the side of the station and crashing into the ground.
The train wreck at Montparnasse Station in Paris, France on or near the 22nd October 1895. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There’s going off the rails during your teenage years, and then there’s actually a train hanging out a wall in 19th century Paris off the rails. Like something out of an old Laurel and Hardy film, this photograph depicts a wreck with the front of a train hanging out the second story of a building, a momentous hole in the wall and a shadow of rubble on the sidewalk below. The incident happened in Paris in 1895, and is known as the Montparnasse train wreck.

After the train from Granville to Paris appeared to be running late, the driver pushed the pedal to the floor to make amends. A concoction of foolishness, potential technical breaking malfunction and conducting incompetency led this passenger train carrying 131 people into an irreversible bulldoze. There’s evidence presented which argues that the brakes didn’t work alongside opposing evidence noting that the driver pulled the brake too late and the conductor was too caught up in something to apply the handbrake. Whatever the reason, this attempt to make amends for being late resulted in this train powering through the buffers at the end of the track, across the 100ft concourse in the Paris train station and ultimately flying out the 2m thick wall at the side of the station, resulting in what is pictured here.

This disaster would not be without consequences. A woman known to be tending to her husband’s stall in the street below was killed and other passengers within the train were injured. The driver of this train was ultimately fined 50 francs for the damages caused, which would lead you to believe that this was a bit of a human error. As an interesting side note, the railway company took full responsibility and looked after the woman who died from the accident’s two children and supported them, whilst also funding her funeral. A kind gesture to try and alleviate some of the tragedy.

None of the passenger carriages were actually damaged in the crash. It would take 10 men and a winch to lower the front of the train to the ground below in a cleanup operation. The locomotive front of the train would then be sent to a workshop for tests, whereby it was found to have very little actual damage to its integrity.

The legacy of this accident and the consequent image has become somewhat famous within not only the transport photography field but in the wider pop culture sphere. It has since featured on book covers, album covers and in film adaptations – including featuring in the Scorsese film, Hugo. Weirdly, an imitation has been created in two locations in Brazil. This accident was also included in an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine and friends, iconic I must admit.

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