Railroad Disaster on the Balvano Limited Part 2

About the railroad disaster of the Balvano Limited in 1944 during World War II, history of the train disaster in Italy.


At 12:50 A.M. the 2 locomotives pulling No. 8017 again opened their throttles to creep slowly forward toward the uphill tunnel less than 5 mi. from the next stop at Bella-Muro. They would arrive there in 20 minutes. The terrain was steep and the route treacherous. At 1 A.M. No. 8017 entered the longest of the uphill tunnels, Galleria delle Armi, more than a mile long. Inside, the train stopped, then slipped backward, pushing the last 3 cars into the open air. The puffing locomotives continued to pour smoke and monoxide gas into the tunnel. Those who escaped death during the 38-minute layover in the 1st tunnel were less fortunate in the Galleria delle Armi.

It wasn't until 2:40 A.M., when No. 8017 was 2 hours overdue, that the stationmaster at Bella-Muro grew alarmed. But both he and the stationmaster at Balvano decided to wait rather than to walk the tracks in search of the missing train. At the scene of the disaster brakeman Giuseppe de Venuto awoke from a fitful sleep and struggled downhill for the tunnel exit. By the time he reached fresh air he knew what had happened inside the tunnel. Death rode the Balvano Limited. He must notify the authorities.

The night was severely cold, black, and wet. Venuto had no light to find his way downward over the dangerous tracks, across trestles, and through even darker tunnels. He crawled a good bit of the way. At 5:10 A.M. he reached the Balvano station, pointed back up the track, and said: "They're all dead." Then he collapsed.

Aftermath: With the arrival of civilian and military authorities at Balvano, a locomotive was detached from another train to take them uphill to the Galleria delle Armi. Along the way corpses had to be removed from the tracks. At the scene, the tunnel was strewn with bodies and the cars were filled with the dead. A U.S. Army colonel wrote in his report: "The faces of the victims were mostly peaceful. They showed no sign of suffering. Many were sitting upright or in positions they might assume while sleeping normally."

Following the disaster, the Italian Government posted guards at each tunnel. No train was allowed through unless the tunnels were clear of smoke. The 500 Balvano victims were buried in a common grave and their families were paid indemnity settlements by the Government. On All Souls' Day, November 2 each year, flowers are placed on the common grave at Balvano in memory of those who died when death rode the Balvano Limited.

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