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Train crashes into station in Yugoslavia

A train entering a Zagreb, Yugoslavia, station derails, killing 153 people, on this day in 1974. It was the worst rail accident in the country’s history to that date and remains one of the worst in Europe’s history.

The express train from Belgrade to Dortmund was filled mostly with workers returning to their jobs in West Germany after taking summer vacations when it pulled away with 400 passengers that evening. Two engineers were in charge of the electric locomotive leading the passenger cars. As the train approached the Zagreb station, it had to negotiate a curve and should have slowed to 30 miles per hour. However, the engineers not only failed to slow the train, but went through a red signal at about 60 mph. There was some dispute as to whether the engineers were drunk or had just fallen asleep; it is known for certain that they had already worked 300 hours each that month and may have been suffering from fatigue.

The train, traveling far too fast, crashed into the platform at the Zagreb station and derailed. The scene was horrific, a mess of bodies and crushed metal. Even worse, the train brought down power lines, which then electrocuted some of the passengers. Many of the survivors were trapped and it took hours before they were rescued. The identification of bodies was very difficult and although authorities attempted to use dental records to assist in the effort, they proved useful in only 5 percent of the identifications. The best estimate is that 153 people died in the crash, but some reports indicate up to 175 deaths may have resulted. President Marshal Tito declared a national day of mourning in response to the disaster.

During the subsequent investigation, it was shown that the train’s brakes were in full working order; the disaster was blamed solely on the engineers. They received prison terms of 15 and eight years.

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