For two hundred years we’ve had rail transportation but from the very beginning, there were tragic accidents. These vintage rail disasters were captured on camera as photography became more prevalent in the late 19th century. Some of the images just defy belief.
Let’s start with the Gare Montparnasse derailment of 1895. This steam locomotive smashed its way through the buffer at the end of the track, crossed the concourse and broke through the main wall of the station ending up in the street outside. A photograph taken at the time is simply surreal. One woman was killed by falling masonry.
The Ongarue rail disaster in New Zealand was a 1923 incident that saw an express train hit a landslide caused by heavy rain. It was an overnight journey and there had been heavy rain. A total of 17 people were killed.
Harcourt Street railway station was a terminus in Dublin, Ireland opened in 1859. The tracks were significantly higher than the pavement outside and goods trains often approached the station at an unacceptable speed. So you can guess what happened next. Another train through the station wall and suspended over the pavement.
I’ve always been fascinated by the death of the leading British politician William Huskisson in 1830. I went to university in Liverpool where there was a Huskisson Street reminding us how this statesman died. He rather unwisely attended the opening of the Liverpool to Manchester railway against doctor’s orders – as he was very ill with inflamed kidneys.
But Huskisson wanted to see the newly invented steam engine!
And off he went with a load of dignitaries to see the steam powered Rocket designed by George Stephenson – the man dubbed “father of the railways”. Despite warnings not to stand on the tracks, that’s exactly what the hapless Huskisson did with rather terminal results.
The cry went up of “The engine is approaching – take care, gentlemen!”
Huskisson had gone on to the track to greet the Duke of Wellington and instead ended up with a mangled leg and a few hours to live. He was our first object lesson that rail transportation could be dangerous. And a classic example of a vintage rail disaster if ever there was one!