Behind the camera: Roger Viollet (left) and Lévy et fils (right)
Where: Gare Montparnasse, Train Station, Paris, France
Photo Summary: Granville-Paris Express rail engine 120-721 after it crashed through the station wall and onto the street
Picture Taken: October 22, 1895
This image is in the public domain because of its age
As the Granville-to-Paris Express approached Montparnasse Station conductor Guillaume-Marie Pellerin looked at his watch. Knowing that he was going to be a few minutes late for the train’s 15:55 arrival time Pellerin kept the train running at high speed as he completed the approach to the station. Pellerin knew he could maintain the high speed and when he was close to the station he would apply the Westinghouse air brake to safely bring the train to a stop. However, on this October 22 in 1895 the Westinghouse brake system failed and at full speed, the train crashed through 100 ft (30m) of the station concourse, smashed through a two feet (0.6m) wall and sailed two stories to the ground below. The image now long since out of copyright is often used by poster companies to show images where something failed or went wrong.
Montparnasse Station is one of the oldest stations in Paris have been in operation since 1840. In 1852 the station as to how it looks in the photo was completed based on the design of architect Victor Lenoir. The trains would arrive on the first floor but in front of the station, a sunken road called the Place de Rennes carried a tramway between the station and Place de l’Etoile.
Locomotive No. 721 a 2-4-0 (or type 120 using the French system) was used for the Granville-to-Paris Express which left Granville every day at 08:45. Nothing was different on the day of the accident with the train conductor Guillaume-Marie Pellerin, a 19-year railroad man, leaving at 08:45. During his run, the train began to fall behind and after the last stop before Montparnasse had 131 passengers aboard. To make up for lost time Pellerin made the infamous decision to enter the station area at cruising speed. But he wasn’t the only one to blame. Two other train staff could have stopped the train with the hand brakes but one of them Albert Mariette was preoccupied with filling out paperwork as they entered the station and he failed to notice in time that train was going faster than it should be. Just as he applied the brake the train smashed through the buffer stop.
Incredibly no one on the train was killed and there were only five injuries, three of those were the crew. Tragically though, Marie-Augustine Aguilard, the wife of a news vendor on the street below was killed when she was struck by falling masonry. She had been watching the newsstand while her husband went to get the evening papers. The train company paid for her funeral and provided a pension for her children.
Guillaume-Marie Pellerin and Albert Mariette were both prosecuted for negligence and found guilty for driving the train too fast and Mariette for not applying the brake in time. There were fined 50 and 25 francs respectively.
Roger Viollet and Lévy et fils both took pictures of the crash though Viollet took a number of photos from different angles. The image now long since out of copyright is often used by poster companies to show images where something failed or went wrong.