L’Accident à la Gare Montparnasse
On 22 October, 1895, the Granville-Paris Express rail engine 120-721 failed to stop at the platform at Gare Montparnasse and overran the buffer stop. The engine careened across almost 100 feet of the station concourse, crashed through a two foot thick wall, shot across a terrace and sailed out of the station, plummeting onto the Place de Rennes 33 feet below where it stood on its nose.
All on board the train survived, five sustaining injuries: two passengers, the 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 lost time. The conductor incurred a 25 franc penalty and the engine driver a 50 franc penalty; he was also sent to prison for two months.
A photo by H. Roger-Viollet (below) also recorded the accident, but it was the anonymous photo above that became a curious icon of the incident, repeatedly printed on posters, coffee mugs, and album covers. Its story was recounted in in the 2007 children’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Replicas of the train crash are recreated in a Brazil theme park.
(The original name of the station Gare de l’Ouest is visible on the outside of the building in the above picture.)