The Great Train Wreck of 1918

In July 9, 1918, Nashville, TN, experienced a very tragic train crash. Commonly referred to as the Great Train Wreck of 1918, some consider it to be the worst train wreck in the United States—although many argue the 1887 Great Chatsworth train wreck is worse by far. So, what makes the Great Train Wreck of 1918 such an important historical incident? Consider the following factors:


Conditions of the Wreck

The two trains (the No.4 and the No. 1) were operating on the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway. They collided head-on on a single track with one train going 50 mph and the other traveling at 60 mph. Upon impact, they derailed and several wooden cars were destroyed.


Deaths and Injuries

While the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) listed the death toll as 101, some reports claimed that there were as many as 121 deaths. In addition, 171 (at minimum) were injured in the crash. Nearly 50,000 people gathered at the site of the wreckage to help with the rescue, search for loved ones, or simply to view the tragedy of the crash.


The Cause

After investigating the crash, the ICC found the railroad’s negligence was a major factor in the crash, claiming that a mixture of operating practices, human error, and lax enforcement led to the terrible tragedy. While the No. 1 train was running half an hour late, the crew failed to note their presence on the track in the following ways:

  • The conductor thought he heard the No. 1 pass but never had visual confirmation.
  • The tower operator had a clear signal from the tower’s train order signals when the No. 4 approached, but after noticing he never had the No. 1 in his logs, he sounded the emergency whistle too late for the No. 4 train to hear.
  • The engineman and the conductor failed to inspect the train register at Shops Junction to determine if No. 1 had arrived yet.


At Sharp & Fellows, we understand how important it is to follow proper procedures and to learn from history how to avoid future incidents. While not a factor in this crash, maintenance and inspections are just as important to consider for a railroad line.