Today I am commemorating a spectacular train disaster. I’d like to start by saying that sadly, someone was killed in this accident, so I am dedicating today’s blog post to the memory of Marie-Augustine Aguilard , newspaper seller and mother of two.
On this day in 1895 the Granville to Paris, Montparnasse express train was approaching the Gare de l’Ouest at around four in the afternoon. It was hauling three baggage vans, a post van and six carriages with 131 passengers on board. The train was running a little late, and it’s driver, Guillaume-Marie Pellerin, was trying to make up the lost time by approaching the station rather faster than normal. The air brakes should have brought the engine safely to a halt, but they failed. The conductor should have been able to apply the hand brake, but he was preoccupied with paperwork. The train pulled into the station at between 40 and 60 km per hour (25-37 mph) The train hit the buffers at the end of the track. But the buffers did not stop it. The engine careered across the station’s concourse for around 30 metres (100 feet) before crashing through a 60 centimetre (2 feet) thick wall, over a balustrade and fell into the Place de Rennes 10 metres (33 feet) below. Marie-Augustine Aguilard was working at a newspaper stand outside the station. She was hit by falling masonry and killed instantly. Fortunately, the passenger carriages were at the back of the train and remained inside the station. There were only six other injuries, two guards, a fireman, two passengers and a passer by in the street below.
The engine driver was fined 50 Francs for approaching the station too fast. The guard was find 25 Francs for failing to apply the handbrake. The railway company paid for Marie’s funeral expenses and also provided a pension for her children. The train could not be removed for another forty eight hours. A team of fourteen horses couldn’t shift it and it was eventually lowered to the ground using a winch and then lifted back onto the station. When it was taken to the railway workshops it was found to have received surprisingly little damage. Plenty of people turned up to view the scene of devastation. Many of them took photographs. The picture above was taken by Lévy and Sons . It is one of the most iconic photographs in transport history.
A similar train accident features in a book called ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ and in it’s film adaptation ‘Hugo’. The book is a work of historical fiction inspired by the life story of film maker, Georges Méliès. It was written and illustrated by Brian Selznick. The film was directed by Martin Scorsese and was the first film he made in 3D. You can see the train crash scene here.