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.