The Gare Montparnasse is one of the six
large terminus train stations of Paris,
located in the Montparnasse area, in the
The station is used for the intercity TGV
trains to destinations in the west and
south-west of France including Tours,
Bordeaux, Rennes and Nantes.
Additionally, it is served by several
suburban and regional services on the
Transilien Paris – Montparnasse routes.
There is also a metro station, and a high-
speed moving sidewalk.
The original station opened in 1840. A
second station was built between 1848
The Gare Montparnasse became famous
for a derailment on 22 October 1895 of
the Granville-Paris Express that overran
The train left Granville at 0845 and was travelling a few minutes late as it approached
Montparneasse at 1555. Pellerin was an experienced engineer of 19 years standing.
Although he was understandably anxious to make up the lost time, he would have been
well aware of the rule that forbade drivers to use the Westinghouse brake to bring trains
to a halt at Gare Montparnasse. This was an economy measure to reduce the brake
shoe wear. Engineers were expected to use the locomotive brake with the hand brakes
on the brake cars.
On this occasion however, he guided his train at speed into the station. He attempted to
apply the Westinghouse brake, but it failed to operate. He was left with only the
locomotives brakes to stop the train. But owing to the speed and the weight of the train,
these were inadequate for the task. The two conductors on board realised that they
were entering the station at a speed which was too high to stop safely. One of them at
least, Albert Mariette was pre-occupied at this time. Although he should perhaps have
been alert to the situation of the train, he was instead concentrating on completing his
paperwork. It was at the last moment that he realised the train's plight and he attempted
to apply the handbrake. He had barely begun to turn the handle when the locomotive
ploughed through the buffer stop.
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|Quiz #170 - August 2, 2008
|1. What happened to cause this accident?
2. What is the location and date?
|Thanks to Gina Ortega for suggesting this photo-quiz.
The Granville to Paris express failed to
stop at the dead ended Gare Montparnasse
station in Paris, careered across 100ft of
concourse and though the glass fronted
end wall and into the street.
Carrying 131 passengers in 12 cars, the
train was in charge of a 2-4-0 class 120
#721 driven by Guillaume-Marie Pellerin.
The train was made up of twelve vehicles.
Two luggage vans and a postal van were
coupled behind the locomotive. There
followed eight passenger carriages and
another luggage can coupled at the rear.
1. Failure of its Westinghouse breaks.
The crew were trying to make up time and going too fast.
2. October 23, 1895
Gare Montparnesse, Paris, France
|Another view of wreck by H Roger-Viollet.
Available on eBay auction ending Aug 7, 2008
|How Marjorie Solved the Puzzle
He misjudged the speed and attempted to apply the
air brake at the last minute but failed to stop. The
engine careered across almost 100 feet (10Metres) of
the station concourse, crashed through a two feet
(0.6m) thick wall, across a terrace and sailed out of
the station as it plummeted onto the street 30 feet
(9m) below. This was the Place de Rennes which
carried the tramway between the station and Place de
l'Etoile. The falling locomotive just missed hitting one
of the trams. Both engineer and fireman had bailed
out before the engine hit the wall.
The front three vehicles were extensively damaged,
but all the passenger carriages remained on the track.
There were only five serious injuries amongst those
travelling on the train. There were two passengers, the fireman and the two
conductors. However, beneath the window stood a woman Marie-Augustine Aguilard
selling newspapers. She was standing in for her husband while he went to collect the
evening papers. She was killed and another woman injured. The railway company paid
for her funeral and a pension for her two children.
Driver Pellerin and Conductor Mariette were both prosecuted. The driver was found
guilty by virtue of having driven the train too fast. He was fined 50 francs and
sentenced to two months imprisonment. He was not however required to serve the
term of imprisonment. Mariette was also at fault for not having applied the
Westinghouse brake himself. He was fined 25 francs.
More than just a dubious legacy, the duo's negligence gives new meaning to the phrase,
"The train is leaving the station."
the buffer stop. The engine careened across almost 30 metres (98 ft) of the station
concourse, crashed through a 60 centimetres (24 in) thick wall, shot across a terrace
and sailed out of the station, plummeting onto the Place de Rennes 10 metres (33 ft)
below, where it stood on its nose. All of the passengers on board the train survived,
five sustaining injuries: two passengers, a fireman and two crewmembers; however,
one woman on the street below was killed by falling masonry. The accident was caused
by a faulty Westinghouse brake and the engine drivers who were trying to make up for
On 25 August 1944, the German military governor of Paris, General Von Choltitz,
surrendered his garrison to the French General Philippe Leclerc at the old train station,
after disobeying Adolf Hitler's direct order to destroy the city (see Liberation of Paris).
During the 1960s, a newer station integrated into a complex of office buildings was
built. In 1969, the old station was torn down and the Tour Montparnasse built on its
spot. An extension was built in 1990 to host the TGV Atlantique.
The picture of the locomotive standing on its nose appears on the cover of the album
Lean into It from the hard rock band Mr. Big.
The story of the train crash and the picture feature in the 2007 children's novel The
Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Much of the story is set in and around
|Gare de Montparnesse Today
[This is] a real-life replica of the
crash! The number (721) and layout
of the engine seem more or less
accurate. Not only has the train been
reproduced, but the building itself
seems to be styled on the
Montparnasse Station. This was a
strip mall somewhere near Goiânia,
Brazil. It’s not really such an oddity as
far as the talking-points of anonymous
strip malls go, so I didn’t think any
more of it until I saw this:
Again, it’s train 721, and again it’s
fallen out of a building fashioned after
It turns out these things are the
frontispieces for a chain of museums
known as Mundo a Vapor (”Steam
World”). I must’ve seen the one in
I wonder if there has arisen an
industry based on producing full-size
novelty crash scene replicas. If so, I’d
like to know who else has bought one, and encourage any
prospective purchasers to buy theirs ASAP.
WOW!! Elaine C. Hebert
Quelle disastre! Alan Cullinan
Wow, good photo :) The modern ones really don't do anything for me, so I often skip
them (as I did last week). Marjorie Wilser
The account I thought best is at www.steam-training.com/paris-wreck-story.htm.
Related 1) This pic was a candidate for Picture of the Year 2006 at Wikimedia
Commons, and the file description there gives lots of captions in other languages,
including Esperanto. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:
Related 2) I very recently read a long account of the difficulty George Westinghouse
had getting his air brakes in production. He started in 1869 when he was 22 years old.
Think how many untold thousands of lives they've saved. Cheers! Rex Cornelius
Amazing!! Thanks for another interesting quiz. Eric Goforth
I love how the photo is still part of pop culture--rock band albums??? :-)
Keep your hand on the throttle and foot on the brake... Robert E. McKenna
Well, can you IMAGINE being below, selling your papers as usual, and all of sudden a
roar out of nowhere, and before you could get your bearings - DEAD! Horrible...
A follow-up story on how they cleaned that up would be interesting... Jinny Collins
I started describing this picture to my husband who is an engineer. He said it hung on
the walls at a GM office for years. I guess a reminder of bad engineering. After
reading the story and remembering something similar in the past few years on a bullet
train in Japan, are there times it is better to be late safely, then try to make up for lost
time by speeding ahead? I have been on a few plane trips where the plane was late in
getting started, but the pilot would speed ahead and somehow make it on time. And,
the guy on the train who was doing his paper work instead of watching for the time he
might need to pull the hand brake, hum? Multitasking is definitely not the thing to do
when you are needed to do pull the hand brake. Judy Pfaff
Yeah I found some great materials (in French) on this topic but believe it or not I am
still stuck on tracking down that damned bridge in Notts from two weeks ago…
making progress… Richard Murray
Yes, just think about how the people who were riding that train felt....their car stayed
on the track but , could have just as easily gone right through the wall too. And for only
one person to have been killed...amazing. Very interesting! Betty Ware
Hi there - I have to admit - after researching this one, I was more interested in "The
Versailles Accident" from the same railway: www.catskillarchive.com/rrextra/wkbkch06.html
then by the quiz photo, where I think one person (a reporter?) was crushed under the
train. As always, something new learned, and in this case, the quiz photo led to another
discovery of the Versaille Accident. where reports are around 50+; different numbers
from different accounts. Great photo! Beth Long
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