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The Tragic 1895 Train Wreck at the Paris, France, Montparnasse Station

It is fairly likely that many of you may have seen this photo before, of the famous 1895 train wreck at the Paris, France, Gare Montparnasse terminal. After seeing photos of it again, via an acquaintance in France, it prompted us to learn more and find out the cause behind it.

The derailment and wreck of the Granville – Paris Express was on October 22, 1895, after it overran a  buffer stop and crashed through a (2 ft) thick wall, shot across an outside terrace and plummeted (30 ft) onto the street below, where it ended up as seen in the photos. Amazingly only two of the 131 passengers and two conductors sustained injuries. Tragically there was one fatality of a woman running a newsstand who was killed instantly by falling masonry.


Photos showing other views of the Montparnasse Station. The middle photo  shows ongoing work three days later to remove the locomotive.

The Engineer Gallium Marie Peelers, who had 19 years of service with the railroad, was nine to ten minutes late leaving the previous station. Peelers who wanted to arrive on time at Montparnasse station, was in a hurry and possibly speeding and apparently did not, or could not slow down soon enough.

The best account we have been able to find on the incident is by Pierre Birge and reads as follows:

“As could be expected, there were serious and extensive inquiries into the reason of the accident, however none were particularly conclusive as to the exact cause. It is clear that the Westinghouse air brakes either failed or were applied too late by engine driver Guillaume-Marie Pellerin. Unfortunately by the time both conductors realized the train was going too fast to be able to stop in the station, it was too late, Albert Mariette did try to turn the handbrake but the train crashed before he had time to tighten it.

It was concluded that there was a technical problem with the Westinghouse brakes, but no legal responsibility. In a legal report, engine driver Pellerin was declared guilty, as his train arrived too fast to stop without the use of the Westinghouse brakes, which was against regulations. Conductor Mariette was also declared guilty of not operating the Westinghouse air brake himself.

Both men were tried on 24th February 1896; on 30th March 1896  the court sentenced Pellerin to two months jail with deferment (if that’s the legal term, not sure) and 50 Francs fine, Mariette was fined 25 Francs with deferment. The Compagnie de l’Ouest (West railway of France) was designated as legally responsible.” From a post by Pierre Birge at World Rail Fans. 

An amazing dream sequence of the train wreck can be seen (above) in Martin Scorsese’s amazing 3-D movie “Hugo”. 

There were only five serious injuries; two passengers, a firefighter and two employees of the railways. Unfortunately, the locomotive fell near a newsstand located outside the station, where Marie-Augustine Aguilard was, as she had substituted for her husband who operated the stand, while he had gone to get the evening papers. When Aguilard was killed by the wreck, she sadly left behind two young boys. The Railway paid for her funeral and also set up an annuity for the couples two children.

The locomotive remained mostly intact and remained suspended for four days before the railway crew managed to remove it. The event caused huge crowds of curious people from the city of Paris to assemble at the site, gathering from early morning morning until darkness descended at night.

This film (below) shows the quarter scale train, tracks and the Montparnasse Station, built for the film along with the amazing process of filming the train scene. 

You can also see another locomotive that crashed through a wall in Hartford, CT., circa 1900, along with eight pages of other locomotive photos here on the Old Motor.You can also read about the Westinghouse car and other products in both the U.S. and France here on The Old Motor.

You can learn more here about the Martin Scorsese’s  3-D children’s movie Hugo. Thanks to Isabelle Bracquemond secretary of the French Indian Motorcycle Club for her help.

17 responses to “The Tragic 1895 Train Wreck at the Paris, France, Montparnasse Station

  1. Definitely one of those “Oh crap!” moments. The reenactment of this event is an amazing feet in it self. Watching the dream sequence from the movie “Hugo” the model work is very impressive.

  2. Thanks for the interesting article David. I have been looking at this picture for awhile now and hadn’t taken the time to do the research. I am still not sure if the Westinghouse brakes had failed or the conductor failed to use them. I cant imagine seeing that station coming up fast they didn’t use all the brakes they had.

    • John, I agree with you as it appears they were going to fast and just did not slow down in time.

      I have not been able to find the story behind what actually was the problem w/the Westinghouse brakes, but maybe a reader will be able to point us to that situation?

  3. Thanks so much for posting this, I especially enjoyed the clip about how the scene was filmed with the scale model – Absolutely wonderful. In our current age of ‘do it all digital’ it is just great to see artists and craftsman still making models to capture the moment and get the affect. For the 32 years I taught art I constantly reminded my students their ability to create was in their hands, and not just by pushing a button!

  4. Whenever I go to Paris I always stay at a hotel directly across from the Montparnasse station. I can definitley picture the train crashing through the building, except now it would end several floors down into the Metro station access area!

  5. This photograph was on my bedroom wall in the 1970s, on a poster that simply had the words “Oh s**t!” on it. That pretty much sums it up.

  6. I feel so bad for the family who had to live with out there mom. plus the dad must feel the worst because it was his job to sell the newspapers but she filled in for him!!!

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