Photographing an Impossible Crash!

Photograph/Studio Lévy and Sons (Studio Lévy and fils); Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Photograph/Studio Lévy and Sons (Studio Lévy and fils); Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

This story was originally published in June 2011.

Contrary to what you might think when you first see the photograph, it has not been manipulated or retouched to look like this. Made on 22 October 1895, the image is an actual record of the famous train derailment at the Gare de l’Ouest (now Gare Montparnasse) station in Paris, France. The train that crashed was the Granville-Paris Express which overshot the platform. The engine careened across almost 98 feet of the length of the station’s hall, crashed through a 24-inch thick wall, shot across a terrace and sailed out of the station, plummeting on to the street outside, where it stood on its nose, half-suspended from the building. The crash was then recorded on camera by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Out of the 131 people travelling on the train, everyone survived! However, two passengers, the fireman and two conductors sustained injuries. Strangely, the only person who was killed was a lady who was walking on the street. She was crushed by the debris that fell when the train crashed out of the station.

This massive accident, as it was later discovered, was caused by faulty brakes. Also, it was found out that the engine drivers were in a hurry and were trying to make up for lost time. Consequently, a conductor incurred penalty of 25 francs (by today’s standards, approx. Rs. 240), and the engine driver was fined 50 francs (by today’s standards, approx. Rs. 480).

One of the most bizarre accidents, the train crash went on to capture the imagination of many artists. It is supposed to be the inspiration behind Belgian surrealist painter, Rene Magritte’s painting Time Transfixed, which showed an engine half-suspended in the air, emerging from a fireplace. Replicas of the train crash have also found their way to a ‘Steam World’ chain of museums in Brazil.

Tags: Granville-Paris Express, June 2011, Story Behind the Picture, Studio Lévy and Sons (Studio Lévy and fils), train crash