On this day in 1972, a train carrying religious pilgrims derails near Saltillo, Mexico, killing more than 200 people and injuring hundreds of others.
Wednesday, October 6, was Saint’s Day in Mexico, a holiday many extended families came together to celebrate. People in the central part of the country often traveled to the shrine of St. Francis at Catorce where a festival was held. Following the festival, they took the train back to Saltillo and Monterrey. That night, the train was packed with about 1,600 passengers. Unfortunately, the engineer and four crew members running the train had also spent the day celebrating, which included drinking tequila.
At about 10 p.m., the train was going down a hill leading to a bridge two miles south of Saltillo. To navigate this section of rails safely, trains must maintain a speed of less than 35 miles per hour, but that evening the train was going about 75 mph. The locomotive derailed due to the excessive speed, dragging 13 of the train’s 22 cars off the rails with it; four of them burst into flames.
The accident site was a horrific scene, as scores of people screamed for help in the night. Some of the passengers who survived unscathed found the engineer alive, and drunk. After an attempted lynching was prevented by authorities, the engineer was taken away by ambulance. Subsequent testing confirmed that he was inebriated. It took two days to find and remove the 208 bodies from the scene. The crash remains one of the worst rail disasters in Mexico’s history.