Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: A penny placed on the tracks will derail a train.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2001]
Origins: Kids have placed pennies on train tracks almost as long as there have been trains and pennies. Our grandparents left pennies on streetcar tracks in the hopes that passing streetcars would flatten the coins, rendering them into good luck pieces.
Has leaving a penny on the tracks ever resulted in the derailment of a train? If it has, I've been unable locate mentions of such accidents. What has resulted, however, are the deaths of those who've engaged in the practice. Doesn't happen often, but it has happened enough that such an outcome remains a very real possibility.
Leaving items other than pennies on railroad tracks has caused trains to derail, though. In July 1999, three Indiana youngsters were charged with having caused the South Shore passenger train to jump the tracks in Michigan City after they placed a brick on the tracks. No injuries resulted, but that was more due to luck than anything else. The derailment of a six-car passenger train isn't exactly something to sneeze at.
Kids have always done oddball things, some more risky than others. Flattening pennies on railroad tracks is an ancient practice, so cautions against it are not likely to bring about its end. Yet it's worth driving home to souvenir-minded youngsters that it's always right to be extra special careful when playing around trains.
Barbara "cents and sensibilities" Mikkelson
Last updated: 27 January 2008
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
snopes and the snopes.com logo are registered service marks of snopes.com.