Posters showing the train standing on its nose have since become an obligatory feature on the walls of many student bedrooms.
131 passengers were on board the train as it left its final stop behind schedule. The heavy train of six passenger coaches, three luggage vans and a post van was being driven by Guillaume-Marie Pellerin. Despite nineteen years of experience he was concerned that he was running late as he approached Montparnasse. In an attempt to claw back some time, he drove much faster than normal into the station and applied the Westinghouse air brake, which operated the brakes of each carriage, in an attempt to slow down the train.
Unfortunately the Westinghouse brake failed and the locomotive’s own brakes were insufficient to stop such a heavy train travelling at high speed. The conductor on board was also preoccupied with paperwork and realised the danger too late to be able to apply his own handbrake. As a result the train ran through the buffer stop and crashed through the wall onto the street below.
Falling masonry hit and killed a woman selling newspapers on the street outside, but amazingly she was the only person who died. The fireman, two guards and two passengers sustained injuries but everyone else was left unharmed. The driver was found guilty of driving too fast and fined 50 francs.