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Torre del Bierzo rail disaster

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Time  13:20 CET (UTC+01:00)
Country  Spain
Type of incident  Collision in tunnel
Date  3 January 1944
Operator  Renfe Operadora
Location  Torre del Bierzo
Rail line  Madrid to A Coruña
Cause  Brake failure
Total number of deaths  78
Torre del Bierzo rail disaster httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu

The Torre del Bierzo rail disaster occurred on 3 January 1944 near the village of Torre del Bierzo in the El Bierzo region of Spain's León province when three trains collided inside a tunnel. Although the official death toll was 78, and at the time it was estimated to be 200–250, more recent studies have estimated the death toll at over 500.


At 20:30 the previous evening the Galicia mail express, consisting of 12 carriages hauled by two 4-8-0 ‘Mastodon’ steam locomotives, left Madrid bound for A Coruña. It was running two hours late when it arrived at Astorga and was having problems with its brakes; nine minutes were spent at Astorga checking them. Later, one of the locomotives was removed due to a hot axle box. The train was now three hours late, and despite serious problems with its brakes during the steep descent through Branuelas, the decision was made to continue. The train was scheduled to stop at Albares but failed to do so, despite all hand-brakes on the carriages and sand being applied. The Albares station master immediately telephoned Torre del Bierzo to say that the train had lost its brakes on the steep descent. At Torre del Bierzo the station master ran for his office and attempts were made to put sleepers on the line to slow the runaway train, but these efforts were to no avail and the train ran through with its whistle blowing incessantly and its brake shoes applied, heading for tunnel No 20, located just beyond the station.

Meanwhile, a shunting engine and three carriages were travelling through the tunnel away from the station having been warned by the station master about the runaway mail train. The last two carriages were still in the tunnel when they were struck by the mail train, as were the first six carriages of the mail train, which began to burn, their wood construction being ignited by the train's gaslighting.

Unaware of the first collision, a coal train was approaching the tunnel from the opposite direction with 27 loaded wagons. As the crash had destroyed the signaling cables, the signals were set at clear when the coal train left tunnel No 21. The unharmed driver of the shunting engine desperately tried to warn the oncoming coal train which managed to slow, but it still ploughed into the shunting locomotive's train, killing the shunting engine driver and four railwaymen on the coal train.

The fire burned for two days delaying any rescue effort and making the identification of most of the victims impossible.

Strict censorship at the time under the regime of General Franco in the wake of the Spanish Civil War meant that the accident received very little publicity at the time, and the official RENFE file on the accident has also been lost. Many people travelled without tickets so it was difficult to estimate the true number of passengers aboard, but survivors state that the train was packed, many travelling to the Christmas fair in Bembibre. It was only many years later that the scale of the accident was revealed and there is still some dispute over its actual magnitude, some sources claiming a death toll of around 500.

Tunnel No. 20, the scene of the accident, was closed in 1985 due to geological problems.

A film about the accident entitled Tunnel number 20 won a Goya Award in 2002 for best short documentary film.


Torre del Bierzo rail disaster Wikipedia

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