A list of the deadliest train tragedies that the world has witnessed
A major train accident occurred in Balasore district of Odisha on Friday (June 2), involving three trains: a freight train and two passenger trains. This incident claimed the lives of 261 people and left approximately 900 injured in Odisha. Rescue operations are currently underway at the accident site.
This was the world’s worst train accident in two decades and ranks 11 in terms of fatalities. Over the years, the world has witnessed numerous railway accidents that have resulted in significant loss of life and property. Here, we highlight the 10 deadliest train accidents that have occurred globally.
Queen of The Sea train crash, Sri Lanka:
The Queen of The Sea train crash in Sri Lanka, caused by the Indian Ocean Tsunami in December 2004, stands as the deadliest train disaster in railroad history. It claimed the lives of over 1,700 individuals.
The overloaded Queen of The Sea Line passenger train was submerged and destroyed by two waves along the south-western coastal railway line near Telwatta, specifically at Peraliya. Tragically, the passengers packed in eight carriages lost their lives.
At the time of the tragedy, the train was en route from Colombo to the southern city of Galle, approaching its destination. However, in December 2008, after being restored, the Queen of The Sea returned to service on the coastal line and made its way back to the Peraliya station.
Bihar train tragedy, India:
In June 1981, a tragic train accident took place in Bihar, India, claiming the lives of around 800 individuals. The incident occurred when a passenger train, crossing a bridge over the Bagmati River near the city of Mansi, was struck by a cyclone.
As a result, the train derailed from the tracks and plunged into the river, leading to the loss of hundreds of lives. The train, consisting of nine cars, was carrying approximately 1,000 passengers on the route between Mansi and Saharsa. It is suspected that the train experienced brake failure during the disaster.
Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne derailment, France:
In December 1917, the Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne derailment occurred in France, resulting in the tragic loss of over 700 lives. This incident stands as the deadliest rail disaster in French history.
The accident took place when a heavily loaded train, measuring 350 meters in length, derailed due to brake failure just before reaching the Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne station. As the train descended into a valley after departing from Modane station, it caught fire.
Around 1,000 French troops who were returning home from the Italian front were aboard two trains that were coupled together to form a single train due to a shortage of locomotives. This combined train, powered by one engine, was destined for the Chambéry station on the Culoz-Modane railway line. It consisted of 19 cars and was traveling at excessive speeds at the time of the tragic accident.
Ciurea rail disaster, Romania:
In January 1917, the Ciurea rail disaster occurred at Ciurea station in Romania, resulting in a tragic death toll of over 600 individuals.
The disaster unfolded when a train, carrying approximately 1,000 people, experienced brake failure and derailed. The train had been switched onto a loop to prevent a collision with another train at Ciurea station. Unfortunately, as the train was descending a steep bank near the station at high speed, the derailment led to a devastating fire.
The train consisted of 26 carriages and was traveling on the line from Iasi to Bârlad. Among the passengers were wounded soldiers and refugees who were fleeing from a German advance. The incident inflicted a profound loss of life and further compounded the tragedy of the war.
Guadalajara train accident, Mexico:
In January 1915, the Guadalajara train accident took place in Mexico, resulting in the tragic loss of over 600 lives. The disaster occurred due to brake failure while the train was descending a steep slope.
As a result of the brake failure, the train derailed from the tracks and plunged into a nearby canyon near Guadalajara. Many individuals were thrown off the train as it navigated high-speed curves, leading to their fatalities. Around 300 people managed to survive the accident.
The train was carrying passengers from Colima to Guadalajara, a route along the Pacific coast. It consisted of 20 carriages and was specifically allocated for the families of the Venustiano Carranza troops amidst the Mexican Revolution. The tragic event left a profound impact, causing significant loss of life and adding to the hardships faced during that tumultuous period.
Ufa train disaster, Russia:
The Ufa train disaster took place in June 1989 near the city of Ufa in the Soviet Union, resulting in a devastating death toll of 575 individuals. This incident remains the deadliest railway disaster in Russian and Soviet history.
The disaster occurred when a burst pipeline near the railway line created a highly flammable cloud from a liquefied gas spill. At that moment, two passenger trains were passing each other on the Adler-Novosibirsk route between Ufa and Asha. Combined, these trains were carrying approximately 1,300 passengers.
The enormous force of the subsequent explosion, estimated to be equivalent to 10 kilotons of TNT, fully incinerated seven carriages and destroyed 37 train cars along with two locomotives. The accident resulted in injuries to more than 800 people, leaving a lasting impact on the region.
Balvano train poisoning, Italy:
In March 1944, near Balvano in southern Italy, a tragic accident occurred, claiming the lives of 520 people. This incident stands as the worst train disaster in the country’s history and is recognized as one of the most unusual rail accidents of the century.
The disaster was caused by carbon monoxide gas emitted from the steam engines of locomotive No. 8017 when it stalled along with all the cars on a steep gradient inside the Armi tunnel. The low-quality coal being used in the loco produced poisonous carbon monoxide, which led to the fatalities.
Unfortunately, the passengers and crew failed to detect the danger as the smoke and fumes dispersed slowly. Some individuals in the last few cars managed to survive by escaping before the poisonous gases reached their location. The incident left a tragic mark on Italy’s railway history.
Torre del Bierzo train accident, Spain:
The Torre del Bierzo rail accident in January 1944 near the village of Torre del Bierzo in Spain causing the death of over 500 people.
The disaster occurred due to a fire caused by the collision of three trains including Galicia mail express, a shunting engine train with three carriages and a coal train inside a tunnel.
The mail train consisting of 12 carriages suffered from brake failure and was hit by the shunting engine. The trains caught fire, which destroyed the signalling cable. The coal train with 27 loaded wagons from the opposite direction then hit the shunting engine train causing many fatalities.
Awash derailment, Ethiopia:
The Awash rail accident caused approximately 400 deaths and remains the worst train disaster ever in Africa. The accident occurred in January 1985 near the town of Awash in Ethiopia due to the derailment of an express train.
The train derailed and crashed on a curve while crossing a bridge between Arba and Awash railway stations on the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway line. The four cars of the train plunged into a ravine on the Awash River.
The train was carrying approximately 1,000 people in five cars and running at excessive speed at the time of the accident.
Al Ayyat train disaster, Egypt:
The train disaster occurred near Al Ayyat, 46 miles away from Cairo, Egypt, in February 2002 causing the death of 383 people.
The passenger train travelling between Cairo and Luxor was overloaded with people in its 11 carriages. A cooking gas cylinder explosion in the fifth carriage created a fire that spread to seven carriages.
The burning train travelled for four miles due to lack of communication between the driver and the rear carriages, and finally stopped near Al-Ayyat. Many of the passengers that jumped from the train did not survive.