Train robbery

Train robbery is a type of robbery, in which the goal is to steal money or other valuables being carried aboard trains.


Train robberies were more common in the past when trains were slower, and often occurred in the American Old West. Trains carrying payroll shipments were a major target. These shipments would be guarded by an expressman whose duty was to protect the cargo of the "express car".

Bandits would rely on the expressman to open the safe and provide the goods. Without the combination required for the combination lock, it was almost impossible to break into the safes. However, the invention of dynamite made it much easier to break into safes and rob the train. If the outlaw was unsatisfied with the goods, passengers of the train's carriages who were generally unarmed would be held at gunpoint and forced to hand over any valuables they were carrying, usually in the form of jewelry or currency.

Contrary to the method romanticized by Hollywood, outlaws were never known to jump from horseback onto a moving train. Usually, they would either board the train normally and wait for a good time to initiate the heist, or they would stop or derail the train and then begin the holdup.

Famous train robbers include Butch Cassidy, Bill Miner and Jesse James.[1] Jesse James is mistakenly thought to have completed the first successful train robbery in the American West when on July 21, 1873 the James-Younger Gang took US$3,000 from a Rock Island Railroad train after derailing it southwest of the town of Adair, Iowa.[2] However, the first peacetime train robbery in the United States actually occurred on October 6, 1866, when robbers boarded the Ohio & Mississippi train shortly after it left Seymour, Indiana. They broke into one safe and tipped the other off the train before jumping off. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency later traced the crime to the Reno Gang. There was one earlier train robbery in May 1865, but because it was committed by armed guerrillas and occurred shortly after the end of the Civil War, it is not considered to be the first train robbery in the United States.

In 2021, train robberies in Los Angeles resulted in hundreds of discarded packages to be strewn about the tracks. Trains were targeted on a section of tracks that they must slow down on and that are easy to access. Thieves are using boltcutters to cut open the locks on shipping containers and taking the packages inside. Union Pacific estimated that losses were in the millions from all the stolen merchandise.[3]

List of train robbersEdit

Some of the most notable train robbers are:

Notable robberiesEdit

In two robberies on the Bristol and Exeter Railway two passengers climbed from their carriage to the mail van and back. They were discovered at Bridgwater after the second robbery.[4] One was Henry Poole, a former guard on the Great Western Railway, dismissed for misconduct (possibly on suspicion of another robbery);[5] the other was Edward Nightingale, the son of George Nightingale, accused, but acquitted,[6] of robbing the Dover mailcoach in 1826,[7] when two thieves had dressed in identical clothes to gain an alibi for the other.[8] They were transported for 15 years.[9] Henry was sent to Bermuda on the Sir Robert Seppings (ship) in December 1850 whilst Edward was transported to Fremantle on the Sea Park in January 1854.[10][11]

In fictionEdit


  1. ^ Goodman, Marc (24 February 2015). Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 52. ISBN 9780385539012.
  2. ^ Sampson, James; Sampson, Lucille (7 August 1985). Calvert, Wade (ed.). "Jesse James and the Rock Island Lines". Iowa Train Robbery on the Rock Island. Archived from the original on 4 August 2008. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  3. ^ Press |, Associated (2022-01-17). "Chronic robbery plagues rail cargo containers in Los Angeles". Boston Herald. Retrieved 2022-01-19.
  4. ^ "Vtbt Vreb hues. » 6 Jan 1849 » The Spectator Archive". The Spectator Archive. Retrieved 2015-11-13.
  5. ^ "THE WOMAN WHO MURDERED BLACK SATIN". Retrieved 2015-11-13.
  6. ^ Maggs, Colin G (May 1963). "The Great Western Mail Robbery". Railway Magazine: 117–119.
  7. ^ "Start exploring | British Newspaper Archive". Exeter and Plymouth Gazette. January 20, 1849. Retrieved 2015-11-13 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  8. ^ "18th and 19th Century: Mail Coach Robberies". Retrieved 2015-11-13.
  9. ^ "Read The Bristol Royal Mail Post' Telegraph' and Telephone by R. C. Tombs, Read free on". Retrieved 2015-11-13.
  10. ^ "Edward Nightingale - Western A -". Retrieved 2015-11-13.
  11. ^ UK Prison Commission Records 1770-1951 via
  12. ^ Andrews, Evan (August 22, 2018). "6 Daring Train Robberies". A&E Television Networks. Retrieved November 23, 2019.
  13. ^ "Robberies". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved November 23, 2019.
  14. ^ results, search (16 March 2015). Bedlam on the West Virginia Rails:: The Last Train Bandit Tells His True Tale. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-1626198937.