I have always had an interest in railways, and with my general interest in all things historical, I like to look back at railway history – the companies, lines and rolling stock that made railways the pre-eminent form of land transport from the mid-19th up to the mid-20th century. One of the more extraordinary stories I came across was the derailment at the Gare Montparnasse in Paris.
The derailment occurred at 4 pm on 22 October 1895 when the Granville – Paris Express hulled by 2-4-0 locomotive number 721 overran the buffer stop at the Gare de l’Ouest (later renamed the Gare Montparnasse) Terminal in Paris. With the train several minutes late and the driver trying to make up for lost time, it entered the station too fast and the trains air brake failed. After running through the buffer stop, the train crashed through 30m (100 ft) of station concourse, smashed through a (0.6m) (two feet) wall and sailed two stories to the ground below.
A woman in the street below was killed by falling masonry; and two passengers, the fireman, two guards and a passerby in the street sustained injuries. The locomotive driver was fined 50 francs for approaching the station too fast. One of the guards was fined 25 francs as he had been preoccupied with paperwork and failed to apply the handbrake. The train was outside the station in this position for several days. While it was easy to move the carriages, the locomotive and tender was another matter. It eventually took a 250 tonne winch with ten men which first lowered the locomotive to the ground and then lifted the tender back in to the station.
Modern signalling and safety devices make it almost impossible for a train to run through a buffer like this today.