On March 2 in 1944, a train halted in a tunnel near Salerno in Italy, more than 500 people on board suffocated and perished. Occurring during the final stage of World War II, the details of this incident were not revealed at the time and remain somewhat mysterious to date.
At 7 PM on 2 March 1944 the freight train 8017 started from Battipaglia heading to Potenza on the Battipaglia–Metaponto railway. The train, hauled by two locomotives.
Although it was a freight train and was not supposed to carry passengers, it wasn’t uncommon at the time for soldiers and civilians alike to hitch rides on any train. Passing through the towns of Eboli, Persano and Romagnano, the 8017 had picked up about 650 passengers by the time it reached Balvano.
At 00:50 AM the train left the station of Balvano, the last one before the disaster.
On the steeply graded Armi tunnel the train stalled with almost all the cars inside the tunnel. The train stopped to wait for a train coming down in the opposite direction. In , the train was stationary in the tunnel for more than 30 minutes. The passengers and crew were overcome by the smoke and fumes so slowly that they failed to notice the dangers. Most passengers died in their sleep and were found still in their resting position.
About 520 of the train’s passengers died by asphyxiation caused by the carbon monoxide as they sat in the train. The government, who were in the midst of an intense war effort, kept a lid on the story.it was hardly reported at the time although it was one of the worst, and most unusual, rail disasters of the century. Most of the victims were never identified, but families of those who were tried after the war end to receive compensation for the accident.
Due to the number of corpses, the post-war lack of resources, and the weak mobbing power that the poor families of deceased people could exercise, victims were buried without a religious service at the Balvano cemetery, in four common graves.
The Italian State Railway refused to take responsibility, claiming that in the complex end-of-war set up they could not even immediately determine who had the responsibility for the management of one particular train. They called the Balvano train disaster a “forza maggiore” (act of God).After the war they tried to sue the governments of the Allied forces (because the accident took place on the territory under Allied occupation at that time). Their lawsuit was unsuccessful.
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