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The Deadliest Train Derailments In World History

Updated September 23, 2021 8.7k views26 items

Since the early 1800s, trains have been used as a form of public transportation around the world. When the railroads were first built, it allowed stressful, dangerous journeys that took weeks or months to take only days. It opened up the world to travel for pleasure instead of necessity. Although many people consider trains to be safer than airplanes or automobile travel, the fact is that hundreds of people become train crash casualties every year. 

The worst train derailments in history span more than two hundred years of rail travel, with the oldest entry in this list occurring in 1853 and the newest in 2004. From New Zealand to Japan, this list of train derailments around the world shows that human error and the unpredictability of nature can quickly change a routine ride into a tragedy causing injuries and death. 

While the deadliest train accidents of all time were unspeakable tragedies, they also helped make railroads and trains a little safer as public outcry often led to advances in technology. Safety regulations and technological advancements are always improving in order to reduce train accident deaths and fatal train derailments

  • 1915 Carranza's Military Train

    Date: January 22, 1915

    Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

    Casualties: Estimated 600

    Cause: Loss of control

    The families of soldiers fighting in the Mexican Revolution were loaded into a train in Colima, Mexico. President Venustiano Carranza had ordered them transferred to Guadalajara due to the war. Per president Carranza's wishes, a 20-car train was filled well beyond its safe capacity. Reportedly there were travelers hanging from the roof and the bottom of the train. The train began a steep descent during the journey and the conductor was unable to control it as it plunged into a ravine.  

  • 1989 Ufa Train Disaster

    Date: June 4, 1989

    Location: Ural Mountains, Soviet Union

    Casualties: 575

    Cause: Natural gas explosion

    In a strange convergence of events, a natural gas pipeline caused two passenger trains to explode off of the tracks. The pipeline had unusually low pressure, but pipeline workers chose to add more gas into the situation instead of shutting off the line and finding the leak. The natural gas gathered on the train tracks and ignited when the two trains created a spark as they passed. The explosion derailed several cars from each train and damaged the surrounding forests, with much foliage being completely incinerated. 

    Windows in a nearby town shattered, trees were incinerated, and hundreds of passengers traveling died while many others suffered severe burns. Helicopters were used to move victims to the hospital for treatment. An estimated 575 victims lost their lies, but most bodies were hardly recognizable. An official death count has never been verified. 

  • 1944 Torre del Bierzo Rail Disaster

    Date: January 3, 1944

    Location: Torre del Bierzo, Spain

    Casualties: Estimated 500

    Cause: Brake failure

    Three trains were involved in this fatal accident. A Galicia mail train lost its brakes and smashed into the rear end of a second train, causing a fire. A third train carrying coal in its 27 wagon cars then hit the existing wreckage. The fire supposedly lasted two days, blocking any rescue efforts. This left the precise death toll a mystery as many passengers were burned well beyond recognition. 

  • 1985 Awash Derailment In Ethiopia

    Date: January 14, 1985

    Location: Awash, Ethiopia

    Casualties: 392

    Cause: Excessive speed

    A five-car train was traveling from Dire Dawa when it derailed on a curve in the track while traveling over the speed limit. Four of the cars plunged into a ravine below the curve, killing nearly half of the estimated 1,000 passengers aboard that day