The Great Train Robberies: How thieves stopped a diesel locomotive with a bag

The robbery of a train en route from Glasgow to London was discussed throughout the world in the 1960s. The carefully planned and skillfully executed crime attracted the attention of the cinematographers, who filmed the series “The Great Train Robbery” in 2013. Its main character, Bruce Reynolds, managed to rob the Bank of England for $ 34 million, in the current equivalent. This is the largest sum robbed in the railway history.

The Great Train Robberies
It took 5 minutes to load 120 bags of banknotes into the van

Reynolds conceived the crime during one of his many stays behind bars. Then the 43-year-old antiques thief, well-known in criminal circles, met a bank worker. He worked in a branch where withdrawn from circulation banknotes were brought from all over the country.

In the UK at that time, damaged banknotes were removed from circulation in batches. They were redeemed only at the central state financial institution. Cash was transported to London in a special carriage, which outwardly did not differ from the usual postal one. The cargo was accompanied by two collectors, which were closed in the car from the inside.

Bruce was unable to carry out the robbery on his own. He attracted 15 people to the project, including a former train driver. Only a few people knew about the entire scale of the operation. Each was promised £ 100,000. It took six months to organize the crime.

The Great Train Robberies
Reynolds (far right) at the birthday party of his accomplice Biggs (far left), who escaped from prison and hid from the police until the age of 70. In his declining years, he returned to London to drink some British beer and was arrested

The robbery began at 3:00 in the morning on 8 August 1963 on a small bridge in Buckinghamshire. The thieves disguised themselves as railroad workers. One of them covered the green traffic light with a black bag and turned on the red light. The train began to slow down. The driver’s assistant jumped off on the move and hurried to the line telephone to find out what was the matter. He did not know that the wires were cut, and bandits were already guarding the apparatus. The robbers stunned first the assistant and then the driver. They needed a wagon that was the second in the train after the diesel locomotive, so the remaining 10 were unhooked.

A former machinist in the gang had to pull the car for several kilometers. But he was so nervous that he forgot how to operate the locomotive. They had to untie a real driver, who drove the locomotive to the right place on pain of death

At this time, the collectors were sleeping peacefully in a warm carriage, forgetting to bolt the door. Therefore, thieves easily opened them from the outside, calmly loaded 120 bags of money into a van and fled to one of the abandoned farms nearby. The head of the operation rented a private jet and flew to France with two friends.

The Great Train Robberies
Part of the robbery participants with an autobiographical book by Bruce Reynolds (in the center with glasses)

Scotland Yard investigators immediately got involved in the case. Upon learning of this, the thieves left the money in a cache. However, they made a fatal mistake – they forgot to take the game of “Monopoly” with them. All participants in the robbery were issued with fingerprint cards. Each of them had a criminal record and was in a police base.

The robbery trial became the longest in the history of British legal proceedings. It lasted 86 days. Most were sentenced to 30 years in prison. The main instigator of the crime was hiding from justice in Mexico for up to 5 years until the stolen money ran out.

Bruce subsequently returned to England to tackle the old, and was jailed for 25 years. But even after that, he did not take up his mind. In the 1980s, he was caught dealing drugs and sent back to prison for another three years. This was Reynolds’ last term.

The Great Train Robberies
Shot from the TV series, released in 2013 / During the filming of the movie “Buster” in 1995

Society became interested in the person who organized the “Great Train Robbery”. Bruce is hired as a consultant to shoot the movie Buster. In 1995, his autobiographical book was published. The legendary criminal died in 2013 at the age of 81.

Railway magazine “Railway Supply”


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