The Metro fire of 1903

metro-fireIt was Monday the 10th of August. Across the city in the working-class areas to the north, wooden Metro trains were thundering along a recently opened branch linking Barbès and Nation. The Metro system had only opened three years earlier, and this stretch of line had been freshly inaugerated at the beginning of the year. The initial curiosity value of this underground railway system had worn off, and the typical user, particularly in this part of the city, was the clerk or workman. It was now a system of transport like any other, but the speed it swept through the congested city made it a popular, constantly crowded one.

paperThroughout the day, drivers of one particular engine had noticed recurring problems. The motor was seemingly overheating, sending out sporadic sparks, flames and smoke. At the terminus at either end, repairs were made and the engine was sent on its way again. In the early evening, at Barbes station, the problems suddenly became worse and a small fire broke out. The electric current was cut, and the fire was quickly put out, but a decision was made to take the engine out of service and the passengers were asked to leave the train. The empty train continued on its way, but was forced to stop at another station as fire had broken out again. It was eventually decided that another train following behind should be taken out of service too and should be used to push the damaged train back to the Nation terminus. The passengers of the two trains were now thickly massed on the platforms, becoming increasingly concerned and annoyed about when they would finish their journey.

The two trains continued towards the terminus, but the problem had not been solved and small fires continued to break out. The drivers simply jumped down at each station, asked for an extinguisher then continued on towards Nation. When they arrived at Menilmontant though that the inevitable happened, and the fire really took hold. Being made of wood, the train’s carriages were quick to burn, and the station was rapidly filled with smoke. Seven victims of the accident would later be found here. But they wouldn’t be the last.


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