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The biggest rail accidents: Train collision in Torre del Bierzo tunnel

The biggest rail accidents: Train collision in Torre del Bierzo tunnel
photo: famous rail accidents in history - train collision in Torre del Bierzo tunnel
05 / 12 / 2021

The infamous railway accident in Spain occurred on 3 January 1944 in a tunnel near the Torre del Bierzo village in the province of León. The official statement, at the time, estimated the death toll at 78 fatalities. More recent studies estimate approximately 500 victims.

The unfortunate event started with the departure of the Galicia mail express, pulled by two locomotives, at 20:30 on 2 January 1944. After reaching their destination two hours late, the crew noticed brake problems, followed by an inspection and replacement of one of the locomotives for about ten minutes due to overheating of the axle box. The train continued its journey despite the brake problems and a three-hour delay, which is caught up with later. Using all hand brakes and squealers failed to make the scheduled stop at Albares and, therefore, it could not enter the tunnel. By an unlucky coincidence, a train with three carriages was just inside it, causing a collision and igniting the wooden structure from the gas lamps, as well as the following fire. In addition, a freight train with 27 wagons fully loaded with coal was approaching from the opposite direction. Despite the efforts of the engineer of one of the locomotives to run opposite to warn the others that the colossus weighing several hundred tons could not break and another collision occurred.

The fire, which lasted for two days, made all rescue attempts and the subsequent identification of most of the victims impossible. Besides, the strict totalitarianism of General Franco's government at the time meant that most of the pieces of evidence were not archived. The high number of stowaways and fare dodgers was another factor that complicated determining the complete number of victims.