Train crashes as disastrous as Spain's are rare, but not rare enough. PHOTO: Reuters
The tragic train crash in Spain, which has claimed 80 lives so far, with 36 more in critical condition among the 178 injured, is the worst train crash in Europe in a long time, but far from the worst ever. Here are the worst recorded train crashes in the history of the technology:
The very worst train crash ever was not the fault of the train driver, engineer or anyone else involved: it resulted from the 2004 tsunami that claimed over 100,000 lives. Among those were at least 1,700 on a train in Sri Lanka. The exact numbers of that incredible disaster are not known.
Next on the list is Europe’s worst train derailment, a 1917 disaster that ended the lives of roughly 700 French soldiers returning home from World War I. There was a shortage of trains at the time, and two trains were hitched together with a single engine and limited brakes.
The worst train crash in the Americas occurred two years before in Guadalajara, Mexico. Over 600 people died when a train derailed into a canyon during a civil war in Mexico.
The only train crash in Spain with a death count over 100 happened in 1944. The Torre del Bierzo disaster resulted from a train running late with brake problems. The train, unable to stop, crashed into another train inside a tunnel, and then a third train, unaware of what had happened, crashed into the wreckage. In all, at least 200 people died, but some estimates are as high as 500.
Worldwide, 81 train crashes have killed over 100 people. Thirteen of these have occurred since the year 2000. None have been in the Americas, and only one, a 2000 crash in Austria, which killed 155 people, were in Europe.
Wealth and improved technology do seem to correlate negatively with disastrous train crashes, but Spain’s tragedy is a reminder that the Western world is not safe from these disasters.