Hugstetten Rail Disaster

The Hugstetten rail disaster occurred on the railway line between Freiburg im Breisgau and Breisach am Rhein on 3 September 1882.

With 64 killed and some 230 seriously injured, it was the deadliest train accident in German history until the collision of two D-Trains at Genthin Railway Station on 21 December 1939, which claimed 278 casualties.

The accident took place on a railway line between Freiburg and Breisach that had been opened on 14 September 1871. The line had been lengthened across the river Rheine to Colmar in 1878.

On 3 September, which was the Sunday after the "Day of Sedan", more than 2,000 people from Alsace (which belonged to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War) had come to Freiburg to spend a relaxing holiday in the neighboring town. At 8 p.m., the train was scheduled to return to Colmar. In the evening, a heavy storm and rain had descended upon Freiburg, and the water had probably undermined the rails at the Mooswald Forest, west of Freiburg. Due to the rain, the train departure was delayed, and when it finally was undarway it was carrying some 1,200 persons in 28 wagons. The driver was probably speeding somewhat to make up for the lost time and the train was making speeds up to 70 km/h.

When the driver noticed a washaway and tried to break without the support of a breakman, the momentum of the pushing railroad cars forced 25 wooden railroad cars to derail into swampy terrain. Only three cars remained on the tracks.

The first witness was the driver of a train from Breisach. He brought help to the scene and headed back to his train station. From the rubble of the devastated train, the helpers dug out 64 people that had been killed. Several families had been wiped out completely. About 230 persons survived the accident but with serious injuries, and five later died from their injuries. Horse-drawn and manually pulled carts brought helpers to the site and injured to the towns of Hugstetten, Hochdorf and Lehen, and in the morning, the last dead and injured were recovered. Because the telegraphic cable line had been damaged, the Freiburg fire department arrived first at midnight to the accident site.

A terrible railway accident, the greatest that has ever occurred in Germany, took place on September 3 near the village of Hugstetten, a station on the Baden State Bailway. An excursion from Freiburg to Colmar left the rails. Of twelve hundred passengers, mostly Alsatians, fifty-two were killed, over one hundred wounded, and nine carriages entirely destroyed". The telegraphic communication was interrupted, and Freiburg could not send assistance till midnight. The cause was that parts of the railway embank-ment had been washed away by the incessant rain of the last few weeks, besides that in the tremendous storm the previous evening several telegraph poles were blown across the track. Ten minutes after the disaster the express from Colmar approached the spot. Only the presence of mind of a brakesman brought this train to a standstill just before reaching the debris, thus preventing another serious calamity.