In her final days Anna Karenina was nothing but a train wreck ... "
Charles Dickens

Liliputins. What, the heck, is this ?


On 9 June 1865, while returning from Paris with Ellen Ternan, Dickens was involved in the Staplehurst rail crash. The train's first seven carriages plunged off a cast iron bridge that was under repair. The only first-class carriage to remain on the track was the one in which Dickens was travelling. Before rescuers arrived, Dickens tended and comforted the wounded and the dying with a flask of brandy and a hat refreshed with water, and saved some lives. Before leaving, he remembered the unfinished manuscript for Our Mutual Friend, and he returned to his carriage to retrieve it.[101] Dickens later used this experience as material for his short ghost story, "The Signal-Man", in which the central character has a premonition of his own death in a rail crash. He also based the story on several previous rail accidents, such as the Clayton Tunnel rail crash of 1861. Dickens managed to avoid an appearance at the inquest to avoid disclosing that he had been travelling with Ternan and her mother, which would have caused a scandal.

The Staplehurst rail crash was a derailment at Staplehurst, Kent on 9 June 1865 at 3:13 pm. The South Eastern Railway Folkestone to London boat train derailed while crossing a viaduct where a length of track had been removed during engineering works, killing ten passengers and injuring forty. In the Board of Trade report it was found that a man had been placed with a red flag 554 yards (507 m) away but the regulations required him to be 1,000 yards (910 m) away and the train had insufficient time to stop.

Charles Dickens was travelling with Ellen Ternan and her mother on the train; they all survived the derailment. He tended the victims, some of whom died while he was with them. The experience affected Dickens greatly; he lost his voice for two weeks and afterwards was nervous when travelling by train, using alternative means when available. Dickens died five years to the day after the accident; his son said that he had never fully recovered.



Meaning of "train wreck" - English Dictionary
train wreck
noun [C usually singular] mainly US informal › something that fails completely or goes extremely badly:

The movie was a train wreck.

After last year's train wreck of a season, we have to do better.

car crash


train wreck


a chaotic or disastrous situation that holds a peculiar fascination for observers

"his train wreck of a private life guaranteed front-page treatment"


•a person whose life is in total disarray.
Why are you dating that train wreck? She hasn't had a job in five years.


train wreck



an incident in which a train is severely damaged


(informal) something or someone that has suffered ruin or calamity

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Examples from the Web for train wreck Expand

Contemporary Examples

Maybe her popularity stems from the fact that watching her is sometimes like watching a train wreck.

My Beef With Ann Coulter 

Meghan McCain 

March 8, 2009 

This is an example of what, it seems to me, is a train wreck of good intentions that become toxic upon squealing collision.

A College, a Gun—and a Big Injustice 

Stanley Crouch 

June 6, 2009 

“This was a train wreck for the Obama administration,” Toobin said.

Beware the Early Predictions in Supreme Court Gay Marriage Cases 

Adam Winkler 

March 25, 2013 

Craig Nova: I like the sense that one character is going to have a train wreck with another.

John Irving's Favorite New Thriller 

John Irving 

March 24, 2010 

This is, after all, the network that recently aired the train wreck that was The Sound of Music Live!

Miley Cyrus’s NBC Twerk-A-Thon: Tongues, Leotards, and Dwarfs, Oh My! 

Marlow Stern 

July 6, 2014 

Historical Examples

In it he felt the nerve-benumbing shudder which comes with the shock of a train wreck.

The Crimson Flash 

Roy J. Snell 

That was a train wreck and an injury that interrupted his routine.

David Lannarck, Midget 

George S. Harney 

Next morning we found ourselves stranded at Plaquemine, by reason of a train wreck a few miles ahead.

Recollections of a Varied Life 

George Cary Eggleston 

In a train wreck, a soldier asserted that he had seen dozens of smashed corpses, although only one person was harmed.

Criminal Psychology 

Hans Gross 

Twice I booked for Sydney on my own—missed one boat through a train wreck, and the other was libeled at the dockhead.

Where the Pavement Ends 

John Russell 

Slang definitions & phrases for train wreck Expand



: popularly known as gang bangs or trains


To do the sex act on a woman serially, man after man, in a gang; gangbang: announced that they were going to train her (1970s+) 

Related Terms

the gravy train, on the gravy train, pull a train, ride the gravy train

[related to pull a train; perhaps influenced by earlier train, ''romp, carry on wildly'']

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
Cite This Source


Keira Knightley

Emma Brockes column

Why I fear Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina is a trainwreck

There's no avoiding the movie posters – and every time I wince inwardly. She's just too 'Keira Knightley' to be Tolstoy's heroine

Emma Brockes

Monday 10 September 2012

I feel bad about this, but I want to say some mean things about Keira Knightley. (Who, when you read her in interviews, seems like a really nice person. There is no quicker way into a British hack's heart, than to tell him repeatedly to fuck off and then drop the c-word. We're that easy.)

Knightley, to this extent, is a welcome antithesis to the prissy Hollywood standard. She is also unfairly knocked for being too thin and once issued libel proceedings against the Daily Mail after it accused her of lying about being anorexic.

All of which makes her a good egg, none of which is relevant to how she is on-screen. Usually, those actors who, when you hear they're in a film, lessen the likelihood you'll go and see it, have obnoxious alter egos – Gwyneth Paltrow's perceived off-screen weediness; Mel Gibson's entire personality – or are simply too famous as themselves to be credible as someone else, neither of which applies to Knightley.

So what is it, on seeing her everywhere right now in posters for the new film adaptation of Anna Karenina, that triggers an instantaneous eye-roll? The film has a good director, Joe Wright, a good supporting cast including the great Olivia Williams and Emily Watson (although, interestingly, Jude Law as the cuckolded husband, is another one the very idea of whom makes one's spirits sink slightly).

But it's Knightley who really does for the film, out now in Britain and opening in the US in November. OK, so there's the accent thing: on the evidence of the trailer, she's gone for that campy upper-crust number she did in Atonement ("come beck; come beck to me"), aiming for Brief Encounter and ecktually sounding more like the Victoria Wood spoof of it.

There's the stricken, owl-eyed, Acting Is Taking Place Here expression she uses in moments of crisis, which always makes me think "Oh, sit down, love; have a cup of tea; it'll blow over in a minute."

And, there's no getting around it, there's the jaw thing. This reached its apotheosis in A Dangerous Method, when Knightley, as Sabina, Carl Jung's troubled patient/lover, lead from the jaw with an extraordinary performance it was almost unbearable to watch. (I feel I can say this without risk of being too hideously unkind, because, it goes without saying, a woman of her success, in her profession, is in the top 1% beauty category already. My point is that, in part because of her jaw and the uses she puts it to, you are never in any doubt that you are watching Keira Knightley. It doesn't matter what the role is. Whether she's standing on a beach in Never Let Me Go or under a parasol in Pride and Prejudice. She is always just so Knightley.)

Weirdly, the one film she was great in was Pirates of the Caribbean. In a comedy, none of the above matters so much: she was, in that film, vivacious and silly and a much more believable heroine – something goofy in her makeup clearly aligning with the genre. The same goes for her brief role in the largely terrible Love, Actually. I think Knightley is a comic in dramatic actress's clothing, mostly unsuited to period drama, not least because she looks inescapably modern.

Maybe, she'll be wonderful in Anna Karenina, but passing the posters on the subway every day, I tend to think – never thought I'd hear myself say these words – wish it was Winslet