Some of the worst bridge building in history resulted in some disastrous train wrecks with many deaths. Weather also played its part in some of the notable disasters. Here we present ten catastrophes that made a dramatic impression in our collective memory.
1. THE DEE RAILWAY DISASTER
In the middle of the 19th century, a new bridge needed to be built across the River Dee in England, for the Chester to Holyhead Railway, part of the expanding rail system. It was composed of cast iron girders, each of which was made of three very large castings dovetailed together, and strengthened by wrought iron bars. It was completed in September 1846, and opened for local traffic after approval by Railway Inspectors, but it was badly designed, and on 24 May 1847, a local train fell through it into the river below, resulting in five deaths (three passengers, the train guard, and the locomotive fireman) and nine serious injuries.
2. THE ST. HILAIRE RAIL BRIDGE CATASTROPHE
It was less than twenty years later that another disastrous collapse happened. Between New York and Montreal, the Richelieu River served as an important waterway, and The Beloeil Bridge was a swing bridge so that rail traffic would not impede shipping. On June 29, 1864 a Grand Trunk train carrying hundreds of passengers was approaching this bridge, which had been opened to allow the passage of five barges and a steamer ship. A red light a mile ahead of the bridge signalled that the crossing was open, but this went unseen, apparently, by the train crew. The resulting crash saw engine and eleven coaches falling through the gap on top of each other, crushing a passing barge. Ninety-nine train passengers died and 100 more were injured. The engineer, who was new to his job, claimed that he did not see the signal.
3. THE ASHTALUBA RAIL BRIDGE CATASTROPHE
This was the deadliest bridge collapse in US history. The bridge collapsed in 1876, after eleven years of use, on December 29, during a snowstorm. As the train crossed the bridge, the entire span collapsed, sending eleven railcars and one locomotive into the creek below. Some railcars were crushed by others landing on top of them. After the collapse into the icy river, the oil lamps and coal heating stoves in the railcars ignited, sending the railcars up into a blaze. Of the 159 passengers and crew, 64 were injured and 98 died, of which 48 were unrecognizable. Many were burned alive in the flames.
4. THE BUSSEY BRIDGE RAIL TRAGEDY
On March 14, 1887, the worst accident in Massachusetts railroad history happened at Roslindale. At least 37 people were killed, with many people seriously hurt. The Boston & Providence Railroad 7 a.m. train to Boston was made up at Dedham with nine passenger cars and one baggage car. The train picked up more passengers at Roslindale. Just south of Forest Hills Station, the engine, tender, and two passenger cars made it across the Bussey Bridge at South Street. Suddenly, one end of the Bussey Bridge collapsed. Several of the passenger cars soared off the high embankment, and the wooden coaches were splintered into a hundred thousand pieces.
5.BLACKSHEAR TRESTLE BRIDGE COLLAPSE
On March 17, 1888, near Blackshear, in Georgia, most of the West India Fast Mail Train was wrecked when 200ft out of a 300ft-long, 25 foot-high trestle bridge collapsed. The accident was caused by a broken rail under the lead baggage car, which went off the track. All but the detached engine tumbled into the gorge below, comprising a combination car, three baggage cars, a smoking car, a coach, two Pullman sleepers, and also a private car. Twenty people are killed with 35 injured.
6. TAY BRIDGE COLLAPSE
Only fifteen more years had passed when, on the evening of 28 December 1879, the centre section of the Tay Bridge, known as the “High Girders”, collapsed, taking with it a train that was running on its single track. All 75 people on the train were killed. Forty-six of the 60 known victims were found, with two bodies not recovered until February 1880. Investigators quickly determined many faults in design, materials, and processes that had contributed to the failure.
7. THE POINT ELLICE BRIDGE DISASTER
On May 26, 1896 in Victoria, British Columbia, a passenger train with 143 passengers aboard crashed through Point Ellice Bridge into the Gorge river. Fifty-five men, women and children were killed, making this the worst accident in Canadian transit history. On June 12, 1896, a coroner’s jury concluded that the tramway operator, the Consolidated Electric Railway Company, was responsible because it allowed a streetcar to be loaded with a much greater weight of passengers than the bridge was designed to support.
8. THE WEESP, HOLLAND RAILBRIDGE WRECK
On September 13, 1918, near Weesp, Netherlands, heavy rainfall caused the embankment leading to the Merwede canal bridge to become unstable. When a passenger train approached the bridge, the track slid off the embankment, causing the carriages to crash into each other and the locomotive to hit the bridge. Forty-one persons were killed and 42 injured.
9. THE TANGIWAI RAILWAY BRIDGE CALAMITY
This disaster on 24 December 1953 was the worst ever rail accident in New Zealand. An 11-carriage overnight express crashed into the Whangaehu River at Tangiwai. The bridge over the river had been badly damaged just minutes earlier by a mudflow from Mount Ruapehu. The engine, all five second-class carriages, and the leading first-class carriage derailed, resulting in the deaths of 151 of the 285 people aboard the train. Of the 176 second-class passengers aboard, only 28 survived.
10. THE SILVER BRIDGE TRAIN WRECK
The Silver Bridge was built in 1928 and named for the color of its paint. It connected Point Pleasant, Virginia and Kanauga, Ohio over the Ohio River. On December 15, 1967, it collapsed while full of rush-hour traffic, resulting in the deaths of 46 people. Two of the victims were never found. Investigation of the wreckage pointed to the cause of the collapse being the failure of a single link in a suspension chain, due to a small defect 0.1 inch (2.5 mm) deep. Analysis showed that the bridge was carrying much heavier loads than it had originally been designed for and was poorly maintained.