December 22

This Day in History

Disaster

Dec 22, 1939:

Express trains collide in Germany

Two express trains collide in Magdeburg, Germany, killing more than 100 people on this day in 1939. Occurring at the outset of World War II, the accident was probably a result of the fact that the country's best rail engineers had all been conscripted into the military.

Between the end of World War I in 1918 and 1939, German trains became well-known for their efficiency. However, as the Second World War began, a large part of the rail system and many of its employees were put to work for the military. In order to keep some civilian trains going, other people, including retired employees, were brought in to run the system. For these new employees, training was often minimal and rushed.

On the morning of December 22, an express train to Cologne filled with Christmas travelers made an unscheduled stop at the Genthin station near Magdeburg. The express train to Berlin came down the same tracks and ignored a stop signal. It was going full speed when it crashed straight into the rear car of the Cologne train.

The Cologne train's three rear coaches were demolished by the impact. In addition, the locomotive of the Berlin express derailed and took five if its coach cars with it. The official death toll was 132 people, with 109 serious injuries. However, the numbers may have been kept artificially low by the Nazi government, which had initially attempted to keep the story from being reported by the press.

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