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  • Writer's pictureNotes From The Frontier

The Wrong Side of the Tracks

Updated: May 4, 2023

Train wrecks were shockingly common in the last half of the 1800s.

Train travel was quite safe in the first half century of the 1800s. Trains didn’t go very fast and there weren’t many miles of track laid down. But around 1853, the number of train wrecks and people killed on trains suddenly rose sharply. Why? The spectacular industrial growth and westward expansion created a “perfect storm” for train disasters. Robert C. Reed explains in his book, Train Wreck:

“One of the major causes of the change from safety to danger was cheap construction. American railroads were very cheaply built. The Federal Government actually encouraged flimsy railroad construction through its land grant policy, which gave railroads land and loans only as mileage was completed. As a result, the government put a premium on speed in construction and length of track, not quality…Consequently, this cheap, hasty construction coupled with increased traffic and speed after 1852 produced a half century of frightful carnage.”

Accidents were compounded by running trains in both directions on single tracks and hasty and cheap trestle construction. In 1875, there were 1,201 train accidents. Five years later, in 1880, that rate had increased to 8,216 in one year.

PHOTOS: (1) In October 1884, the Cincinnati Eastern Railroad trestle collapsed into the Little Miami River near Batavia, Ohio, as the Manchester express train was passing over it. The engine, baggage car and first coach plunged into the river, killing three people in the engine and injuring seven in the first coach. Fortunately, most of the passengers were in the second coach that stopped precariously balanced on the edge of the broken trestle—a ride those lucky passengers never forgot! (2) In June 1864, a train in Quebec, Canada, fell through an open swing section of the Beloeil Bridge and into the Richelieu River. It was the worst train disaster in Canadian history, killing ninety-nine people. (3) The Bostian Bridge train wreck in August 1891 just west of Statesville, North Carolina. The engineer was late and trying to make up time. The train didn’t make the curve and plunged 60 feet into the valley, killing 23 passengers. The accident also started a long “Ghost Train Legend.” (4) Collision between two locomotive engines in 1892 on the Bay of Quinte Railway, Ontario. (5) An early 1900s locomotive ran off the track into Stony Creek in Pennsylvania. (6) The climatic scene in the 1926 Buster Keaton movie “The General,” in which an actual locomotive collapses into Row River in Oregon. (7) The 1911 Lehigh Valley Railroad derailment on the bridge over the Canandaigua Lake outlet, killed 29 and injured 62. The train was on route to Rochester, NY. (8) Arguably the most famous train wreck photograph: The Gare Montparnasse Paris wreck in 1895. The engine overran the buffer stop inside the station.

Read these related posts:

-The Incredible Story of Kate Shelley

-The Heartbreaking Tale of Orphan Trains


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May 21, 2022

On 29 May, 1892 Stanislaus Ceck was killed in railroad accident in Marias, Glacier, Montana. Is there any way I can find what and where this accident was? A citation from the obituary of his deceased wife Mary Juneau in Fort Benton, Choteau, Mt reads, " In May 1891, she was married to a Mr. Cech, who a year later was killed in a railroad accident at Marias." I would appreciate any help I can find.

Elizabeth Brown

Notes From The Frontier
Notes From The Frontier
May 21, 2022
Replying to

I would contact the county or state historical society in that county or the state of Montana and ask them if they have any records regarding the train accident. Good luck!


Deborah Hufford

Author, Notes from the Frontier

Deborah Hufford is an award-winning author and magazine editor with a passion for history. Her popular blog with 100,000+ readers has led to an upcoming novel! Growing up as an Iowa farmgirl, rodeo queen and voracious reader, her love of land, lore and literature fired her writing muse. With a Bachelor's in English and Master's in Journalism from the University of Iowa, she taught students of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, then at Northwestern University, Marquette and Mount Mary. Her extensive publishing career began at Better Homes & Gardens, includes credits in New York Times Magazine, New York Times, Connoisseur, many other titles, and serving as publisher of The Writer's Handbook


Deeply devoted to social justice, especially for veterans, women, and Native Americans, she has served on boards and donated her fundraising skills to Chief Joseph Foundation, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), Homeless Veterans Initiative, Humane Society, and other nonprofits.  


Deborah's soon-to-be released historical novel, BLOOD TO RUBIES weaves indigenous and pioneer history, strong women and clashing worlds into a sweeping saga praised by NYT bestselling authors as "crushing," "rhapsodic," "gritty," and "sensuous." Purchase BLOOD TO RUBIES online beginning June 9. Connect with Deborah on, Facebook, and Instagram.

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