Deadliest Train Disasters by Cause and Location

The Spanish train derailment on July 24 resulted in a tragic loss of human life (79 dead). The number of people killed and injured places this tragedy on a very short list of the worst rail disasters of this millennium. Although not as grave as the Sri Lanka disaster of 2004, this incident and the people who perished will remain in our thoughts for quite some time.

A closer look at the modern history of the worst rail disasters will reveal that as many as 86+ accidents and disasters, each with casualties of 90+ people.

The worst, by cause and location are listed below:

Deadliest Train Disasters Infographic
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Disaster Descriptions

1910 - Deadliest, by an Avalanche

A train snowed in by a blizzard in the Cascade Mountains region of Washington is knocked into a 150-foot deep gorge by an avalanche. 96 people (most of whom were railroad employees) perished.

1915 - Deadliest in North America

More than 600 are killed in Mexico when a train derails, plunging into a canyon. Victims are families of soldiers on their way to the recently re-captured Guadalajara by revolutionary leader Venustiano Carranza.

1917 - Deadliest in Europe

An overloaded train carrying French soldiers on their way home from Italy's WWI battlefields derails. A two-locomotive train operating only on one failed to stop the quickly descending train. Over 700 soldiers die of a resulting accident.

1944 - Deadliest in a Tunnel

Deadliest crash in a tunnel occurred in Spain, on the way from Madrid to Corunna. The passenger train crashed into a freight train and caught fire inside the tunnel. Second deadliest occurred the same year in Italy when a train stalled inside a tunnel and the crew and passengers were asphyxiated by smoke.

1946 - Deadliest in South America

The deadliest accident in South America occurred at Aracaju, Brazil. The locomotive and four passenger cars derailed on a steep descent, killing 185 and injuring more than 300 people of the estimated 1,000 passengers.

1953 - Deadliest in the South Pacific

In 1953, a lahar resulting from Mt. Ruapehu's volcanic eruption washes away a bridge. An overnight train from Wellington to Aukland plunges into a river killing 155 passengers, making it the deadliest accident in New Zealand and the South Pacific.

1972 - Deadliest by Tunnel Collapse

French train strikes debris from a tunnel collapse causing it to derail. Minutes later, another passenger train enters the tunnel and crashes. In total, 108 are killed and as many as 111 are injured in the worst tunnel collapse accident ever.

1981 - Deadliest at a Bridge

The worst railroad accident at a bridge occurred in Calcutta, India in 1981. While speeding down slick tracks in monsoon-like conditions, an engineer breaks too hard to avoid a cow crossing the tracks. Most of the train derails killing 608.

1989 - Deadliest by an External Explosion

A leaking natural gas pipeline ignited after two passenger trains went by the leak area. The blast, which was estimated to be equivalent to 10,000 tons of TNT, killed 400 instantly. In total, 575 individuals perished, making it the deadliest railroad explosion disaster ever and the worst in Russian history.

2002 - Deadliest in Africa

When a cooking cylinder exploded and the train caught fire, it took two hours for the engineer to realize what was happening and stop the train. By then, seven cars had burned to the ground, destroying everything and everyone in them. The government of Egypt reported 383 dead, while media sources estimated closer to 1,000 victims.

2004 - World's Deadliest

On the morning of December 26, 20004 the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake generated a tsunami that would kill at least 1,700 people aboard a train in Sri Lanka. It is said that the earthquake produced the single worst tsunami in history.

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