ITALY: Death Train

  • Share
  • Read Later

At the mountain whistle-stop of Balvano, 60 miles southwest of Naples, special train 8017 stopped for water. Then it struggled off into the rainy night—two locomotives tugging 45 freight cars jammed with some 700 passengers. In a damp, narrow, two-mile-long tunnel, train 8017 stopped again.

The incline was steep. As the wheels of the two locomotives spun on the slippery rails, smoke poured from the stacks, swirled about the passengers. In the caboose, still sticking out of the tunnel, a brakeman heard strange noises coming from the freight cars ahead, realized something was terribly wrong, ran back down the track to Balvano. When he arrived, Assistant Stationmaster Giuseppe Salonia—told by the next station that 8017 had not arrived—was trying to figure out where the train could be. Rescuers rushed to the tunnel in a locomotive. From inside came the sound of the stalled engines still puffing slowly; bodies were sprawled beside the track; 530 passengers had died of asphyxiation.

The date was March 2, 1944. The Allied Military Government hushed up the accident then because of the adverse effect it would have had on Italian morale; the accident received little publicity after the war. Eventually 300 lawsuits, asking damages of more than one billion lire ($1,600,000), were filed by relatives of the victims. Not until last week, when the cases were pending before the Naples Appellate Court, did the Italian press give wide publicity to the worst accident in Italian railroad history.*

*An even worse rail accident occurred in 1917 at St. Michel, near the Franco-Italian border, when a French troop train was wrecked, killing at least 535, injuring 243. Wartime censorship likewise hushed up the St. Michel disaster; the full story was told 16 years later.