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A derailment is an accident on a railway or tramway
Tramway may refer to:* Tramway , a lightly laid railway for uses such as logging or mining * A system of trams * Aerial tramway...

 in which a rail vehicle, or part or all of a train
A train is a connected series of vehicles for rail transport that move along a track to transport cargo or passengers from one place to another place. The track usually consists of two rails, but might also be a monorail or maglev guideway.Propulsion for the train is provided by a separate...

, leaves the tracks
Rail tracks
The track on a railway or railroad, also known as the permanent way, is the structure consisting of the rails, fasteners, sleepers and ballast , plus the underlying subgrade...

 on which it is travelling, with consequent damage and in many cases injury and/or death.

There are several main causes of derailment: broken or misaligned rails, excessive speed, faults in the train and its wheel
A wheel is a device that allows heavy objects to be moved easily through rotating on an axle through its center, facilitating movement or transportation while supporting a load, or performing labor in machines. Common examples found in transport applications. A wheel, together with an axle,...

s, and collisions with obstructions on the track. Derailment can also occur as a secondary effect in the aftermath of a collision between two or more trains. Trap points protect main lines from runaway vehicles by deliberately derailing them to bring them to a stop.

Rail breakages

There are many reasons why rail tracks
Rail tracks
The track on a railway or railroad, also known as the permanent way, is the structure consisting of the rails, fasteners, sleepers and ballast , plus the underlying subgrade...

 break. In bygone days, it was common for a rail break to start near the joint between discrete rail segments. Manufacturing defects in rail can cause fissures. Wheelburns can also contribute to rail breaks by changing the metallurgy of a rail. Rails are also more likely to break when the weather is cold, when the ballast and ties/sleepers are not providing as much support as they should, and when ground or drainage condition is such that 'pumping' occurs under heavy load. All of these conditions can contribute to a broken rail, and in turn a possible derailment. Recently, the 'gauge corner cracking' phenomenon has come under the spotlight after a GNER high-speed train derailed in 2000
Hatfield rail crash
The Hatfield rail crash was a railway accident on 17 October 2000, at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, UK. Although the accident killed fewer than other accidents, Hatfield exposed the major stewardship shortcomings of the privatised national railway infrastructure company Railtrack and the failings of...

 near Hatfield, England.

Rail breaks at rail joints

Each rail segment is 39 feet (11.9 m) long, and fishplate
In rail terminology, a fishplate, splice bar or joint bar is a metal bar that is bolted to the ends of two rails to join them together in a track. The name is derived from fish, a wooden bar with a curved profile used to strengthen a ship's mast...

s must be used to join them together. Rail joined with fish plates is known as jointed-rail or jointed track. The method to join two pieces of rail together is to drill two or three holes on the web of the rail at each segment-end, and bolt the two rail segments together using two fishplates, one on either side. The bolts and the area of rail around the drilled holes endure huge stresses as train wheels pass over the joint. If the rail joint is not properly supported by railroad tie
Railroad tie
A railroad tie/railway tie , or railway sleeper is a rectangular item used to support the rails in railroad tracks...

 and ballast
Track ballast
Track ballast forms the trackbed upon which railway sleepers or railroad ties are laid. It is packed between, below, and around the ties. It is used to facilitate drainage of water, to distribute the load from the railroad ties, and also to keep down vegetation that might interfere with the track...

 underneath, the stresses may be even greater. Over time, the cumulative action of many wheel passages can cause a crack to appear. It is quite common for the crack to begin at the bolt holes. Cracks can also begin internally within the rail. Once began, the crack can travel within the rail, eventually finding its way to a surface, causing a piece of rail to break off.

Manufacturing defects in rail

The quality of rail steel has improved dramatically since the early days of railroading. The trend toward using continuously welded rail (CWR) requires a higher quality rail, due to the cyclic thermal expansion and contraction stresses that a CWR would be required to endure. In addition, rail operations in general have been trending toward higher speed and higher axle-load operation. Under these operating conditions, rail pieces rolled in the 19th century would likely break at an unacceptable rate. Despite the improved rail quality and rail metallugry, if impurities find their way into rail steel and are not detected by the quality assurance process, they can cause rail breaks under certain conditions.

Recent rail-making processes have also been trending toward a harder rail, requiring less frequent replacements under heavy loads. This has the side-effect of making the rail more brittle, and thus more susceptible to brittle fracture rather than plastic deformation. It is therefore imperative that unintentional impurities in rail be minimized. Tata
Tata Steel
Tata Steel is a multinational steel company headquartered in Jamshedpur, India and part of Tata Group. It is the world's seventh-largest steel company, with an annual crude steel capacity of 31 million tonnes, and the largest private-sector steel company in India measured by domestic production...

 of Holland and England, and U.S. Steel
U.S. Steel
The United States Steel Corporation , more commonly known as U.S. Steel, is an integrated steel producer with major production operations in the United States, Canada, and Central Europe. The company is the world's tenth largest steel producer ranked by sales...

 of Pittsburgh, are two current rail manufacturers.

Wheelburn-related rail breaks

When a locomotive wheel spins without moving the train forward (also known as slipping), the small section of rail directly under the wheel is heated by the forces of friction between the wheel and itself. The wheel rests on an area of rail about two centimeters long, so the heating effect is very localized and occurs very quickly. While wheelburn typically does not cause the entire rail section to melt, it does heat the steel to red-hot temperatures. As the locomotive stops slipping and starts moving—or worse still, slips forward by a matter of inches and heats a different piece of rail—the heated spot cools down very quickly to normal temperature, especially when the weather is cold.

This heat-quench process results in annealing
Annealing (metallurgy)
Annealing, in metallurgy and materials science, is a heat treatment wherein a material is altered, causing changes in its properties such as strength and hardness. It is a process that produces conditions by heating to above the recrystallization temperature, maintaining a suitable temperature, and...

 of the rail steel and causes substantial changes to its physical property. It can also cause internal stresses to form within the steel structure. As the rail surface cools, it may also become oxidized, or undergo other chemical changes by reacting with impurities that are on the surface of the rail. The net result of this process is that an area of the rail that is more susceptible to breakage is created.

Wheelflat-related rail breaks

If the brakes are dragging or the axle ceases to move on a rail vehicle while the train is in motion, the wheel will be dragged along the head of the rail, causing a 'flat spot
Flat spot
A Flat spot, or Wheel flat, is a fault in railroad wheel shape. A flat spot occurs when a rail vehicle's wheelset is dragged along the rail after the wheel/axle has stopped rotating. Flat spots are usually caused by faulty brakes or wheelset bearings...

' to develop on the wheel surface where it contacts the rail. When the brakes are subsequently released, the wheel will continue to roll around with the flat spot, causing a banging noise with each rotation. This condition is known as wheel out of round.

The banging of flat wheels on the rail causes a hammering action that produces higher dynamic forces than a simple passage of a round wheel. These dynamic forces can exacerbate a weak rail condition and cause a rail break.

Cold weather-related rail breaks

In continuously welded rail (CWR), the ribbons of rail are designed to survive under compression during the summer heat, and under tension during the winter. The welded rail cannot expand or contract lengthwise, thus must deal with temperature-related physical expansion and contraction by changing cross-sectional area. During cold weather, this results in substantial tension along the direction of travel.

This tension, if sufficiently large, will cause a crack to develop at the weakest point in the rail. As previously discussed, the weak point could be caused by a manufacturing defect, a wheelburn, a poor weld, or some other irregularity in the rail. During exceptionally cold weather, the rail may break cleanly across, and a large gap may open up between two sections of formerly welded rail. This condition can easily cause a derailment under load.

The tension in the rail is amplified if a train rolls over the rail and brakes. A decelerating train has a tendency to pull the rails forward, resulting in increased tension in the part of the rail that follows directly beneath the rail-wheel interface. Part of this problem is mitigated by the use of rail anchors, which grips the rail at the bottom and anchors it to a railroad tie
Railroad tie
A railroad tie/railway tie , or railway sleeper is a rectangular item used to support the rails in railroad tracks...

. The rail anchors prevent the rail from slipping longitudinally (along the direction of travel) and also serve to ensure the thermal stresses are evenly distributed along the CWR sections.

Methods to detect rail breaks

If a rail breaks cleanly, it is relatively easy to detect. A track occupancy light will light up in the signal tower indicating that a track circuit
Track circuit
A track circuit is a simple electrical device used to detect the absence of a train on rail tracks, used to inform signallers and control relevant signals.- Principles and operation :...

 has been interrupted. If there is no train in the section, the signaler must investigate. One possible reason is a clean rail break. For detecting the rail break this way, one has to use signal bonds that are welded or pinbrazed on the head of the rail. If one uses signal bonds that are on the web of the rail, one will have a continued track circuit.

If a rail is merely cracked or has an internal fissure, the track circuit will not detect it, because a partially-broken rail will continue to conduct electricity. Partial breaks are particularly dangerous because they create the worst kind of weak point in the rail. The rail may then easily break under load—while a train is passing over it—at the point of prior fissure.

Typically, these type of rail breaks are detected by the visual inspection of a track engineer walking the line, or ultrasonic testing. Ultrasonic testing is accomplished by running a detector car over the tracks. Invented by Elmer Ambrose Sperry
Elmer Ambrose Sperry
Elmer Ambrose Sperry was a prolific inventor and entrepreneur, most famous as co-inventor, with Herman Anschütz-Kaempfe of the gyrocompass.Sperry was born at Cincinnatus, New York, United States of America...

 in the early 1900s, the detector car initially used induction to detect cracks within the steel. Later, ultrasonics were introduced and have remained the industry standard for detecting defects within rail. It works by sending an ultrasonic signal into the rail, which detects characteristic patterns in the reflected ultrasound since anomalies within the steel reflect ultrasonic energy. In effect, the testing device works like a Sonar
Sonar is a technique that uses sound propagation to navigate, communicate with or detect other vessels...

 that could 'see' internal crack and defects within the rail.

Misaligned railroad tracks

Several different types of misaligned plain line tracks can cause or contribute to a derailment:
  • Wide-to-gauge
  • CWR buckling
  • Incorrect crosslevel
  • Incorrent cant/superelevation
  • Incorrect alignment
  • Washout
    A washout is the sudden erosion of soft soil or other support surfaces by a gush of water, usually occurring during a heavy downpour of rain or other stream flooding. These downpours may occur locally in a thunderstorm , or over a large area, such as following the landfall of a tropical cyclone...

Track-caused derailments are often caused by wide gauge. Proper gauge, the distance between rails, is on standard gauge
Standard gauge
The standard gauge is a widely-used track gauge . Approximately 60% of the world's existing railway lines are built to this gauge...

 track. As tracks wear from train traffic, the rails can develop a wear pattern that is somewhat uneven. Uneven wear in the tracks can result in periodic oscillations in the truck, called truck hunting, which can be a contributing cause of derailments.

In addition to rail wear, wooden ties can weaken and crack from the stress of bearing train load tonnage. As ties weaken, they lose a solid tight grip on the spikes, which hold the rails in position. Over time, the rail gauge can drift substantially from the proper specification, hence the need for regular track maintenance and tamping. More usually, a rail that is not properly held in position tends to roll when a train passes over it at excessive speeds. In that case, poorly maintained track and excessive speeds are both contributing causes for the derailment.

Train tracks most often lose gauge in curves, where the outside wheels tend to push the gauge rail outward. If the gauge between the rails are sufficiently wide, the train wheels can drop between the rails. This, however, is not a common cause of derailments.

Many rail operators in the United States are replacing wood ties with concrete ties on lines with heavy or high speed trains. Amtrak's Acela New Haven to Boston Electrification Project replaced practically all wooden ties between New Haven and Boston with concrete ties. However, converting existing tracks to concrete ties is a costly and time-consuming method to reduce out-of-gauge derailments.

Concrete ties have been standard on mainline railroads in Europe since the 1960s. Concrete ties have also been the renewal standard on rapid transit applications in North America. For subway tunnels, 'slab track' is the preferred option, where support structures for rails are directly poured into the tunnel floor using pre-mixed concrete.

Excessive speed derailments

Two different mechanisms cause excessive speed derailments:
  • Wheel climb, in which the wheel is lifted off the track because the friction between the flange and the gauge face of the rail is too great, causing the wheel flange to climb outwards over the head of the rail.

  • Rail roll, in which the horizontal forces applied by the flange to the gauge face of the rail is too great, overcoming the anchoring forces of rail spikes and clips.

These are two extreme conditions that result from excessive vehicle speed. The "L/V ratio," which is the ratio of the lateral to vertical forces on the rail, is a critical factor in maintaining a safe speed.

In the United States, the maximum permissible speed for set degree of curvature
Degree of curvature
Degree of curve or degree of curvature is a measure of curvature of a circular arc used in civil engineering for its easy use in layout surveying....

 and superelevation is defined in 49 CFR, Part 213. In the UK, the Rail Group Standards defines maximum permissible speeds.

Slow speed derailments

There are some derailments because of slow speed in tight curves, especially in freight trains with high center of gravity.

The main reason for this phenomenon is unloading in the outer wheel, which goes to a critical situation because of the larger superelevation that creates an inward acceleration, resulting in an unloading.

Because of the action of outer wheel as the steering force, this can lead to the climbing of wheel according to the Nadal formula
Nadal formula
The Nadal formula, also called Nadal's formula, is an equation in railway design that relates the downward force exerted by a train's wheels upon the rail, with the lateral force of the wheel's flange against the face of the rail...

, which expresses the relation between the lateral forces on the wheel and the vertical downforce of the wheel on the rail.

In-train forces

Several types of derailments can be caused by in-train forces.
  • Uneven loading
  • Train "stringlining" on sharp reverse curves
  • Poor train handling techniques
  • Rolling stock design issues

Uneven loading

This type of derailment can occur in freight trains if empties (unloaded railcars) are marshalled in train between the locomotive and heavy loaded cars. For example, if the consist contains locomotives, empty trailer racks, followed by a large block of loaded coal hoppers. When the train is braking, brakes on the head end of the train will apply first causing the locomotive to slow down and the slack
Slack action
In railroading, slack action is the amount of free movement of one car before it transmits its motion to an adjoining coupled car. This free movement results from the fact that in railroad practice cars are loosely coupled, and the coupling is often combined with a shock-absorbing device, a "draft...

 to run in. The heavy coal cars towards the end of the train would shove the lighter cars forward with considerable force. This can cause the lighter cars to arch upwards and jump the tracks, especially if the in train forces causes couplers
Coupling (railway)
A coupling is a mechanism for connecting rolling stock in a train. The design of the coupler is standard, and is almost as important as the railway gauge, since flexibility and convenience are maximised if all rolling stock can be coupled together.The equipment that connects the couplings to the...

 to overload.


This type of derailment occurs when a string of light cars travel over reverse curve
Reverse curve
In civil engineering, a reverse curve is a section of the horizontal alignment of a highway or railroad route in which a curve to the left or right is followed immediately by a curve in the opposite direction....

 (S-curve) while locomotives are attempting to accelerate with all slacks pulled out. The reverse curve offers considerable resistance to the locomotive. The cars would tend to prefer to travel in a straight line, the line of least resistance. This causes in-train forces towards the inside of the curve in the middle of the train. If the middle cars are too light, wheels may climb the inside of the curve and travel along a chord to the arc.

Poor train handling

Poor train handling techniques can cause derailment, regardless of the load. Usually, allowing the slack to run in too fast (while braking or at the bottom of a valley) is the cause of derailment in cases relating to poor train handling. Over hill terrain, experienced train engineers will run the train with dynamic brakes
Dynamic braking
Dynamic braking is the use of the electric traction motors of a railroad vehicle as generators when slowing the Locomotive. It is termed rheostatic if the generated electrical power is dissipated as heat in brake grid resistors, and regenerative if the power is returned to the supply line...

 while keeping the slack under control. Air brakes are usually only used to bring the train to a complete stop at low speeds.

Rolling stock design

Some strange failure modes have been recorded in the history of railroading. The L Class
LB&SCR L class
The LB&SCR L Class was a class of 4-6-4 steam tank locomotives designed by L. B. Billinton for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. They were known as the "Brighton Baltics", Baltic being the European name for the 4-6-4 wheel arrangement...

 tank locomotives of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway
London, Brighton and South Coast Railway
The London, Brighton and South Coast Railway was a railway company in the United Kingdom from 1846 to 1922. Its territory formed a rough triangle, with London at its apex, practically the whole coastline of Sussex as its base, and a large part of Surrey...

 were found to be prone to derailment at high speeds due to water surging in the long sidetanks. The class was redesigned to incorporate an additional water tank between the frames and the capacity of the sidetanks was restricted to lower the centre of gravity Similarly, Amtrak's first long distance diesel locomotive, the EMD SDP40F
The EMD SDP40F was a 6-axle Diesel-electric locomotive built by General Motors Electro-Motive Division from 1973 for Amtrak service. Power was provided by an EMD 645E3 16-cylinder turbocharged Diesel engine, which generated 3000 tractive horsepower .-Origins:The SDP40F was the first locomotive...

, was implicated in certain crossover-related derailments. Investigations revealed that the location of a water tank within the locomotive may have caused excessive swaying while the locomotive traversed crossovers at high speeds, shifting the locomotive's center of gravity and forcing it to overturn onto its side.

A similar issue arises in unevenly loaded timber cars. Timber centerbeam flatcars are to be loaded with equal amount of timber on both sides. However, unloading only takes place on one side of the car at a time, which requires the half-loaded car to be run around a wye track to allow the shipper to gain access to the other side of the car. While the car is being run around, the center of gravity of the car is on one side. If crossovers or curves are traversed at too high a speed, the car can easily topple over onto its heavy side.

Flangeless wheels

Flangeless wheels make it easier for a locomotive
A locomotive is a railway vehicle that provides the motive power for a train. The word originates from the Latin loco – "from a place", ablative of locus, "place" + Medieval Latin motivus, "causing motion", and is a shortened form of the term locomotive engine, first used in the early 19th...

 to negotiate curve
In mathematics, a curve is, generally speaking, an object similar to a line but which is not required to be straight...

s, but make them more prone to derailment. Rerailing a train after it has derailed is not an easy task, and often requires the use of large rail-mounted crane
Crane (railroad)
A railroad crane, is a type of crane used on a railroad for one of three primary uses: freight handling in goods yards, permanent way maintenance, and accident recovery work...


The Australian Standard Garratt of WWII had flangeless driving wheels which made it derailment prone.

Wheel and truck failures

Wheel fracture derailments are quite rare. This is partly due to the Federal Railroad Administration
Federal Railroad Administration
The Federal Railroad Administration is an agency in the United States Department of Transportation. The agency was created by the Department of Transportation Act of 1966...

's requirement for 1000 miles (1,609.3 km) undercarriage inspections for trains operating in the U.S. Also, a variety of defect detectors en route would highlight most wheel and truck failure precursor conditions. Some reasons for wheel and truck failures are:
  • Hot axlebox. This has been almost eliminated as freight car (goods wagon) trucks are transitioned from a simple bearing to a roller bearing design.
  • Fracture of axle. Some freight train derailments have been caused by axle fractures, but these are relatively rare events.
  • Fracture of wheel. This is also a rare event. However, the failure mode received a great deal of attention due to the InterCity Express (ICE) train's wreck in Eschede, Germany
    Eschede train disaster
    The Eschede train disaster was the world's deadliest high-speed train accident. It occurred on 3 June 1998, near the village of Eschede in the Celle district of Lower Saxony, Germany. The toll of 101 people dead and 88 injured surpassed the 1971 Dahlerau train disaster as the deadliest accident in...

    . The composite wheel then used on the ICE, which includes a rubber inner tire, failed catastrophically, resulting in a 100 mi/h+ derailment that sent a train into a support pillar for a highway overpass. The overpass crashed down on top of the train, causing many fatalities.

At present, several technologies are available to detect abnormal wheel and truck conditions:
  • Hot axlebox detector
  • Dragging equipment detector
  • Wheel impact load detector
  • Derailment detector


Trains can, but do not always, derail if they hit obstacles on the tracks, like animals, fallen branches, vehicles and bikes on level crossings, and so on.

Once one locomotive or wagon derails, it becomes an obstacle for following wagons, leading to a pileup.

The shape of the front of the train is important. If it is curved like a "cowcatcher", then obstacles may be thrown safely off to one side.


Trains can be derailed or tipped over by earthquakes. In Japan, JR East actively conducts research to prevent earthquake related derailments, especially of Shinkansen trains, by developing emergency communications systems that send a "train stop" signals to all trains when a heavy earthquake is detected. This permits the train to come to a safe stop if it is not already derailed, rather than allowing trains to continue running and potentially hitting a deformed structure or track segment.


Since engines and wagons are quite heavy, up to 300 ST (268 LT; 272 t), even a slight derailment can be difficult to rectify. In the U.S., minor low speed derailments are sometimes rerailed by the engine crew. Wooden blocks, planks, metal bars can be used for this purpose. More serious derailments where the cars are completely removed from the normal track alignment will likely incur track damage, and vehicles may have to be removed by rail mounted
Crane (railroad)
A railroad crane, is a type of crane used on a railroad for one of three primary uses: freight handling in goods yards, permanent way maintenance, and accident recovery work...

 or other cranes
Crane (machine)
A crane is a type of machine, generally equipped with a hoist, wire ropes or chains, and sheaves, that can be used both to lift and lower materials and to move them horizontally. It uses one or more simple machines to create mechanical advantage and thus move loads beyond the normal capability of...


In some cases, cars are simply left in the field after the derailment, because the cost of retrival exceeds the economic value of the car. However, this can be done only if the abutter does not object.

Contracting companies specializing in derailment recovery exists in both UK and the U.S., smaller railroads often rely on external contractors for disaster recovery.

If rolling stock rolls down an embankment as a result of a derailment, a locomotive and cable can sometimes be used to haul those vehicles back to the top again.


George Westinghouse
George Westinghouse
George Westinghouse, Jr was an American entrepreneur and engineer who invented the railway air brake and was a pioneer of the electrical industry. Westinghouse was one of Thomas Edison's main rivals in the early implementation of the American electricity system...

, amongst others, invented devices that helped rerail derailed vehicles.

Example accidents

Most railway accidents involve derailment. See Lists of rail accidents.

19th Century

November 11, 1833 – Hightstown, New Jersey, United States: Carriages of a Camden & Amboy train derail at 25 miles per hour (11.2 m/s) in the New Jersey meadows between Spotswood and Hightstown when an axle breaks on a car due to an overheated journal. One car overturns, killing two and injuring 15. Among the survivors is Cornelius Vanderbilt, who will later head the New York Central Railroad. He suffers two cracked ribs and a punctured lung, and spends a month recovering from the injuries. Uninjured in the coach ahead is former U.S. President John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States . He served as an American diplomat, Senator, and Congressional representative. He was a member of the Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, and later Anti-Masonic and Whig parties. Adams was the son of former...

, who continues on to Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 the next day.
January 6, 1853 – Andover, Massachusetts
Andover, Massachusetts
Andover is a town in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. It was incorporated in 1646 and as of the 2010 census, the population was 33,201...

, United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

: The Boston & Maine noon express, traveling from Boston to Lawrence, Massachusetts, derails at 40 miles per hour (17.9 m/s) when an axle breaks at Andover, and the only coach goes down an embankment and breaks in two. Only one person is killed, the 12-year-old son of President-elect Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce was the 14th President of the United States and is the only President from New Hampshire. Pierce was a Democrat and a "doughface" who served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Pierce took part in the Mexican-American War and became a brigadier general in the Army...

, but it is initially reported that General Pierce is also a fatality. He is on board, but is only badly bruised. The baggage car and the locomotive remain on the track.
April 16, 1853 – Cheat River
Cheat River
The Cheat River is a tributary of the Monongahela River in eastern West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania in the United States. Via the Monongahela and Ohio rivers, it is part of the Mississippi River watershed, ultimately draining into the Gulf of Mexico.-Geography:The Cheat is formed at...

, Virginia (now West Virginia)
West Virginia
West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian and Southeastern regions of the United States, bordered by Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, Ohio to the northwest, Pennsylvania to the northeast and Maryland to the east...

, United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

: Two Baltimore & Ohio passenger cars tumble down a 100-foot ravine above the Cheat River in Virginia (now West Virginia), west of Cumberland, Maryland, after they are derailed by a loose rail.

20th Century

December 12, 1917 – Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne
Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne derailment
-Summary:The Saint Michel de Maurienne derailment of December 12, 1917, is the most serious railway accident in France’s history. The derailment of an overloaded train carrying nearly 1,000 French soldiers on leave returning from the Italian front, as the train descended the Maurienne valley rail...

, France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

: A troop train derails near the entrance to the station after running away down a steep gradient from the entrance of the Fréjus Rail Tunnel
Fréjus Rail Tunnel
The Fréjus Rail Tunnel is a rail tunnel of length in the European Alps, carrying the Turin–Modane railway through Mount Cenis to an end on connection with the Culoz–Modane railway and linking Modane, France and Bardonecchia, Italy...

; brake power was insufficient for the weight of the train. Around 800 deaths were estimated, with 540 officially confirmed. This was the world's worst-ever derailment, and worst rail disaster up to the end of the 20th century.
July 2, 1922 – Winslow, Camden County, New Jersey
Camden County, New Jersey
-Demographics:As of the 2010 Census the population of Camden County was 60.28% Non-Hispanic white, 18.45% Non-Hispanic black, 1.12% Hispanic blacks, 0.17% Non-Hispanic Native American, 0.15% Hispanic Native Americans, 5.07% Non-Hispanic Asian, and 0.14% non-Hispanics reporting some other race...

, United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

: The Owl, a Reading Railroad train derailment, at Winslow Junction on the West Jersey and Seashore Line tracks near the Winslow Tower. Shortly before midnight, train 33 derails when the seashore-bound locomotive going more than 90 miles per hour (40.2 m/s) speeds through an open switch. Four passengers, the engineer, fireman and conductor were killed.
July 30, 1938 – near Balaclava Station, Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, in length, up to in width and 10,990 square kilometres in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about south of Cuba, and west of Hispaniola, the island harbouring the nation-states Haiti and the Dominican Republic...

: five overcrowded cars derail; 32 killed, 70 injured.
February 18, 1947 – Blair County, Pennsylvania
Blair County, Pennsylvania
-Significant Topographic Features:*Brush Mountain*Logan Valley*Morrison Cove*Tussey Mountain-Demographics:As of the census of 2000, there were 129,144 people, 51,518 households, and 34,877 families residing in the county. The population density was 246 people per square mile . There were 55,061...

, United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

: The Red Arrow, a Pennsylvania Railroad
Pennsylvania Railroad
The Pennsylvania Railroad was an American Class I railroad, founded in 1846. Commonly referred to as the "Pennsy", the PRR was headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania....

 express passenger train, jumps off the track on the Bennington Curve near Altoona, Pennsylvania
Altoona, Pennsylvania
-History:A major railroad town, Altoona was founded by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1849 as the site for a shop complex. Altoona was incorporated as a borough on February 6, 1854, and as a city under legislation approved on April 3, 1867, and February 8, 1868...

 and tumbles down a large hill, resulting in 24 deaths and 131 injuries.
Stein-Saeckingen 1991 - 8 tank cars derailed
Zuerich-Affoltern 1994 - 5 tank cars derailed
Lausanne derailment (1994)
The Lausanne derailment of 1994 took place in July 1994 in the Swiss city of Lausanne.15 tank wagons were derailed, and chemicals spilled....

 1994 - 15 tank cars derailed
Eschede train disaster
Eschede train disaster
The Eschede train disaster was the world's deadliest high-speed train accident. It occurred on 3 June 1998, near the village of Eschede in the Celle district of Lower Saxony, Germany. The toll of 101 people dead and 88 injured surpassed the 1971 Dahlerau train disaster as the deadliest accident in...

 June 3, 1998 - The world's deadliest high-speed train accident - 101 dead.
October 16, 1999 - Near Ludlow, California
Ludlow, California
Ludlow is a small town in the Mojave Desert on Interstate 40, located in San Bernardino County, California, United States. The older remains of the ghost town are along historic Route 66.-Geography:...

: Amtrak’s westbound Southwest Chief
Southwest Chief
The Southwest Chief is a passenger train operated by Amtrak on a 2256-mile BNSF route through the Midwestern and Southwestern United States. It runs from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California, passing through Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California...

 passenger train, en route from Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

 to Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

, was derailed while crossing the Mojave Desert
Mojave Desert
The Mojave Desert occupies a significant portion of southeastern California and smaller parts of central California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah and northwestern Arizona, in the United States...

 126 miles (202.8 km) northeast of Los Angeles when the train reached a section of track that had been damaged by the 7.1-magnitude Hector Mine earthquake, which had occurred 24 minutes prior to the derailment. Four of the 155 passengers on the train suffered minor injuries in the incident.

21st Century

2000 – Hatfield rail crash
Hatfield rail crash
The Hatfield rail crash was a railway accident on 17 October 2000, at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, UK. Although the accident killed fewer than other accidents, Hatfield exposed the major stewardship shortcomings of the privatised national railway infrastructure company Railtrack and the failings of...

10 May 2002 – Potters Bar rail crash
Potters Bar rail crash
There have been at least three railway accidents in Potters Bar, a town in Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, just north of Greater London. One occurred in 1898, one in 1946 and the last in 2002.-1898:...

, Potters Bar
Potters Bar
Potters Bar is a town in the Hertsmere borough of Hertfordshire, England, located north of Central London. In 2001 it had a population of 21,618....

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

: A points
Railroad switch
A railroad switch, turnout or [set of] points is a mechanical installation enabling railway trains to be guided from one track to another at a railway junction....

 failure causes a British Rail Class 365
British Rail Class 365
The British Rail Class 365 "Networker Express" are dual-voltage 25 kV AC and 750 V DC) electric multiple units built by ABB at York from 1994 to 1995. These were the last units to be built at the York factory before it closed...

 to derail on the approach to Potters Bar railway station
Potters Bar railway station
Potters Bar railway station serves the town of Potters Bar in Hertfordshire, England. It is located on the Great Northern Line between London Kings Cross and on the East Coast Main Line....

. As a result, the train slides sideways across the station platform, killing six on the train and one under the road bridge. January 31, 2003 – Waterfall train disaster
Waterfall train disaster
The Waterfall rail accident was a train accident that occurred on 31 January 2003 near Waterfall, New South Wales, Australia. The train derailed, killing seven people aboard, including the train driver.-Incident:...

, Waterfall, New South Wales
Waterfall, New South Wales
Waterfall is a small suburb in southern Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, Australia. Waterfall is located 38 kilometers south of the Sydney central business district in the Sutherland Shire....

, Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

: A train derails as it rounds a sharp curve rated for 60 km/h at a speed of 117 km/h, after the train driver has a heart attack. The two safety mechanisms—the driver's deadman's brake, which remains depressed because of the driver's weight, and the guard who could have applied the emergency brake, but is in a microsleep
A microsleep is an episode of sleep which may last for a fraction of a second or up to thirty seconds. Often, it is the result of sleep deprivation, mental fatigue, depression, sleep apnea, hypoxia, narcolepsy, or hypersomnia...

 at the time—are found to be the direct causes of the incident. 23 February 2007 – Grayrigg derailment
Grayrigg derailment
The Grayrigg derailment was a fatal railway accident that occurred at approximately 20:15 GMT on 23 February 2007, just to the south of Grayrigg, Cumbria, in North West England. The initial conclusion of the accident investigation is that the derailment was caused by a faulty set of points ,...

, Grayrigg
Grayrigg is a small village and civil parish in the South Lakeland district of Cumbria, England. It lies on undulated and partly mountainous land, north east of Kendal, on the north side of the West Coast Main Line, and west side of the M6 motorway....

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

: The 17:15 Virgin West Coast Pendolino
British Rail Class 390
The Class 390 Pendolino is a type of train used in Great Britain. They are electric multiple units using Fiat's tilting train pendolino technology and built by Alstom. Fifty-three 9-car units were originally built for Virgin Trains from 2001 to 2004 for operation on the West Coast Main Line , with...

 service from London Euston
Euston railway station
Euston railway station, also known as London Euston, is a central London railway terminus in the London Borough of Camden. It is the sixth busiest rail terminal in London . It is one of 18 railway stations managed by Network Rail, and is the southern terminus of the West Coast Main Line...

 to Glasgow Central, travelling on the West Coast Main Line
West Coast Main Line
The West Coast Main Line is the busiest mixed-traffic railway route in Britain, being the country's most important rail backbone in terms of population served. Fast, long-distance inter-city passenger services are provided between London, the West Midlands, the North West, North Wales and the...

, derails due to stretcher bar disconnection. April 28, 2008 – Jiao-Ji line derailment, Shandong
' is a Province located on the eastern coast of the People's Republic of China. Shandong has played a major role in Chinese history from the beginning of Chinese civilization along the lower reaches of the Yellow River and served as a pivotal cultural and religious site for Taoism, Chinese...

, China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

: The T195 Express service from Beijing
Beijing , also known as Peking , is the capital of the People's Republic of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of 19,612,368 as of 2010. The city is the country's political, cultural, and educational center, and home to the headquarters for most of China's...

 to Qingdao
' also known in the West by its postal map spelling Tsingtao, is a major city with a population of over 8.715 million in eastern Shandong province, Eastern China. Its built up area, made of 7 urban districts plus Jimo city, is home to about 4,346,000 inhabitants in 2010.It borders Yantai to the...

 derails at Shandong due to excessive speed, and collides moments later with another passenger train traveling in the opposite direction, killing over 70 passengers and railroad maintenance workers, and injuring more than 400.
April, 2008 - Larissa, Greece - passenger train derails; 28 of 174 passengers injured
February 13, 2009 - Orissa train derailment
2009 Orissa train derailment
The Jajapur derailment was a passenger train derailment that occurred at 19:45 local time in the dark in the eastern state of Orissa, India, on 13 February 2009. Nine people were killed and 150 people were injured in the incident...

 a passenger train derailment that occurred at 19:45 local time (14:15 UTC) in the dark in the eastern state of Orissa, India, on 13 February 2009. Nine people were killed and 150 people were injured in the incident. 23 February 2009 - Limpopo
Limpopo is the northernmost province of South Africa. The capital is Polokwane, formerly named Pietersburg. The province was formed from the northern region of Transvaal Province in 1994, and initially named Northern Transvaal...

 June 30, 2010 A coal train derailment in Wayzata, MN. No injuries. October 25, 2010 – NJ Transit train 6621 derailed departing Penn Station New York. 300 passengers were offloaded and no injuries were reported. November 24, 2010 - Machynlleth
Machynlleth is a market town in Powys, Wales. It is in the Dyfi Valley at the intersection of the A487 and the A489 roads.Machynlleth was the seat of Owain Glyndŵr's Welsh Parliament in 1404, and as such claims to be the "ancient capital of Wales". However, it has never held any official...

, UK. A British Rail Class 153
British Rail Class 153
The British Rail Class 153 Super Sprinter is a single car diesel multiple unit converted from British Rail Class 155s.-Description:These units were originally built as two-car Class 155 units by British Leyland from 1987–88, but were converted by Hunslet-Barclay at Kilmarnock from 1991-92...

 derailed whilst operating a service between Birmingham and Aberystwyth, however there were no reported injuries.

See also

  • Lists of rail accidents
  • Classification of railway accidents
    Classification of railway accidents
    Classification of railway accidents, both in terms of cause and effect, is a valuable aid in studying rail accidents to help to prevent similar ones occurring in future...

  • Train wreck
    Train wreck
    A train wreck or train crash is a type of disaster involving one or more trains. Train wrecks often occur as a result of miscommunication, as when a moving train meets another train on the same track; or an accident, such as when a train wheel jumps off a track in a derailment; or when a boiler...

  • Tram accident
    Tram accident
    A tram accident is generally an accident in which a tram is involved . When general traffic safety is evaluated, as in traffic accident statistics, any accident involving a tram or a tram system can be considered to be a tram accident...

  • Kenya Railways Corporation
    Kenya Railways Corporation
    Kenya Railways Corporation , also Kenya Railways is the national railway of Kenya. Established in 1977, KR is a state corporation.- History :...

    - accidents