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Danger Ahead! Special Feature
Disasters at Christmas   






a look at some of the significant accidents that have occurred this century from the run-up to Christmas to New Years Day

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Indian Railways
Elliot Junction
19 December1909

Disasters at Christmas in the
20th Century

Since the beginning, the railways have had an important role during the Christmas period. Extra traffic has been generated by the numbers of people travelling to be with relatives and friends during the festivities. Freight, parcels and mail traffic has also seen a rise at this time as retail goods are shipped from warehouse to retail outlet and individuals exchange Christmas greetings cards. For the railway companies, this means additional revenue and for the workforce there is overtime.

But there is a certain strain on working at a time of year, in the northern hemisphere at least when weather conditions are less than ideal. It is a tribute to all those involved in the operation of the railways that everything usually goes as well as it does. There have however been a number of incidents at Christmas that have led to tragedy. This feature takes a look at some of the significant accidents that have occurred this century from the run-up to Christmas to New Years Day.

1902, December 26: Wanstead, Ontario
Due to a misunderstanding between two officials, two trains entered the same single line section from opposite directions. The resulting head-on collision killed 28 people.
1906, December 29: Elliot Junction, Scotland
Twenty-two people were killed when an express train ran into the back of another train during a blizzard.
1907, December 25: Terra Cotta, Washington DC, USA
Twenty-two people were killed when two passenger trains collided. A stationmaster had incorrectly given a mail train the "Line Clear" after having previously accepted a train from the opposite direction.
1907, December 25: India
Twenty-two people were killed when two passenger trains collided. A stationmaster had incorrectly given a mail train the "Line Clear" after having previously accepted a train from the opposite direction.
1910, December 24
Christmas Eve, 1910 was a particularly bad time with no fewer than five accidents being recorded which involved loss of life . . .
Hawes Junction, England
An error by a signalman sent two light engines off ahead of an express from London to Scotland. The resulting collision and fire caused the deaths of eight people.
Bolsover England
This was the second of two English accidents that night. It caused the deaths of 3 children when they were struck by a train while they were trying to cross the line by way of an open wicket gate at a level crossing.
Upper Sandusky, Ohio, USA
A collision on the Pennsylvania RR killed eight people.
Montereau, France
A collision on the Paris, Lyon & Mediterranee Railway between the Paris - Modane Express and a goods train resulted in the death of a sleeping-car attendant and injuries to 7 people.
Marmande, France
An accident on the Midi killed 20 people
Arbanats (Bordeaux), France
The Midi suffered a second disaster that night when the Toulouse express was stopped at Arbanats station because of the Marmande accident further down the line. The driver of an approaching train failed to respond to a danger signal and rammed the rear of the express.
1910, December 25: Chateaudun, France
As if the three French accidents on Christmas Eve weren't enough, the Paris-Orleans Railway was involved in an accident on Christmas Day. Six persons died when their horse-drawn carriage was struck by an express on a level crossing.
1917, December 12: Modane, France
Although this disaster does not fall strictly within the time frame for this feature, it is included here by virtue of the fact that with over 800 killed it was the worst-ever railway accident and that it involved troops who were returning home from the front on Christmas leave.
1933 December 23: Lagny-Pomponne, France
France's worst ever railway accident involved France's largest steam locomotive when it crashed at speed into the rear of a train standing in the station. The driver of the Paris - Strasbourg express failed to heed several adverse signals as he strove to make up to make up lost time. The locomotive, a 4-8-2 (241) struck the standing train at a speed of approximately 60 mph reducing the wooden coaches to matchwood. Two hundred and thirty people died and 300 were injured.
1938, December 24: Etulia, Romania
Ninety three people killed and 147 injured when a troop train and a local train were in head-on collision on a single track line.
1941, December 27: Frankfurt on Oder, Germany/Pznan, Poland
Thirty-eight people were killed when the Berlin-Warsaw express ran into the rear of a stationary train.
1941, December 28: La Gourge France
A total of 56 people were killed and 50 injured in a collision on the now national railway of France SNCF. The accident occurred on the Nantes-La Roche-sur-Yon line.
1941, December 30: Hazebrouck, France
Fifty people killed in a disaster near Hazebrouck
1942, December 27: Almonte, Ontario, Canada
Thirty-six people were killed and over 200 injured when a troop train ran into the the rear of a passenger train which was just pulling out of Almonte station.
1944, December 31: Baglet, Utah, USA
The second part of the Pacific Limited crashed into the rear of the first on a foggy evening. The driver of the second part suffered a heart attack.
1946, January 1: Lichfield, England
A fish train collided with the rear of a local passenger train which was standing in the station. Freezing weather conditions and a misread danger signal contributed to the accident in which 20 people were killed and 22 injured
1953, December 24: Walouru, New Zealand
The eruption of the volcano, Mt Ruapehu was the cause of this tragedy which killed 151 people.
1953, December 25: Sakvice, Czechoslovakia
A local train was standing in Sakvice station when the Prague - Bratislava express train collided with it. One hundred and eighty-six people were killed.
1958, January 1: Mohri, India
Thirty two people were killed and 85 injured in a collision in thick fog at Mohri station. A local train from Ambala to Delhi collided with the Delhi - Pathankot express which was standing in the station.
1963, December 24: Szolnok, Hungary
A collision between two trains caused the deaths of 45 people. The driver of one of the trains was held to be culpable and received a prison sentence of eleven years.
1969, December 31: Theis, Senegal
More than 20 people were killed in a collision between a goods train and a Dakar - St. Louis pasenger train.
1987, December 31: Mozambique
This was a deliberate act of sabotage rather than an accident. A special train was taking around 1,500 migrant workers home from South Africa when it was attacked by guerilla fighters. They had set a landmine which derailed the train. More than 22 people were killed and 71 injured.
Following the derailment, the guerillas opened fire on the train. They also abducted a number of the passengers.

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This file last updated: Monday, 20-Dec-1999 19:51:29 EST
Copyright © David Fry 1999