The Great Train Robbery

It was the biggest robbery of all time.

In the middle of a warm August night in the south of England, 15 men stole £2,600,000 in used banknotes from a train. This was in 1963; in 2009 the money would be worth £40,000,000, or about 400,000,000 Norwegian kroner!


The men planned the robbery very carefully. They rented a farmhouse near the place where they stopped the train, and they hired enough Land Rovers and trucks to carry themselves and the money to a safe place. How did they stop the train? Easy: they fixed a signal so that the red light was on, and the train just had to stop. Then they uncoupled the carriage with the money, drove it to where their vehicles were waiting, emptied it, and drove away.

Soon after the robbery, the police received information from the underworld and went to the farmhouse. There they found enough clues to identify the robbers, who, by the way, had been playing Monopoly with real money after they robbed the train. Thirteen of them went to jail, but two of them escaped. One of them, Ronnie Biggs, spent years in Brazil, but he needed medical treatment and missed England so much that he returned in 2001. Yes, there’s no place like home.



Work in pairs and find the wrong pieces of information in the text below. How many can you find?

It was a cold morning in eastern England when 13 men stole $40,000,000 in new notes from a train. They stopped the train by waving a red lamp at it. They then drove back to the holiday cabin they had bought. The police caught them all and six of them went to prison. Three of the robbers escaped later and went to Brazil, but one of them, Ronnie Biggs, did not like Brazilian food and came back to England in 2005.



Activities for the links below

Below you will find a BBC article about the Great Train Robbery. Read it two or three times, then answer these questions.

  1. Where was the train travelling from?
  2. Who did the planning for the robbery?
  3. How did the robbers hide their identities?
  4. How did the police identify the robbers?
  5. When was Reynolds caught?
  6. Which robbers lived abroad for years?
  7. What is the connection between Phil Collins and the robbery?
  8. What effect did the robbery have on the train driver?

Go to the Daily Telegraph website, where you will find a short profile on Ronnie Biggs, the most famous of the train robbers. Use the information there to create a timeline called ‘The life and times of Ronnie Biggs’.