Railroad bridge failure

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Posted by blownout cylinder on Tuesday, March 9, 2010 9:10 AM

Bucyrus
On that same line, there is a much larger, multiple span deck girder bridge on stone piers spanning the Minnesota River at Carver, MN.  In earlier times, the M&StL routinely had commercial divers enter the river and inspect the bedding of the stone piers.  Over the last 20 years or so, one of those stone piers has settled unevenly, apparently due to the river scouring out the bedding for the pier. 
 
Before operations ended, that pier was tipped toward downstream so that its top was about 12”-18” out of alignment.  It was very visible as a large dip and offset in the bridge deck, and in just looking at the pier compared to the rest of the piers.  I found it hard to believe that U.P. continued to use the bridge when the pier bedding was so obviously compromised.  How could you be sure of the pier performance at any given train event when the condition of the pier was obviously changing over time?  How many degrees can you tip a GP-38 before you concentrate so much extra loading on the tipped pier that it tips further?   

What I'd like to know is how often trains were put through in a day and how fast they would run. I know there would have been restrictions but----

Also what would that offset do to the piers next to the tipped pier----I'd love to have seen what kinds of side loading would have occured with, say, 15 cars loaded----

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Posted by aegrotatio on Tuesday, March 9, 2010 8:50 AM

 Sure, TV show vs. NTSB report, but be careful of the association fallacy.  This isn't the only show you may encounter that adds extra evidence and research to a long-held problem.  The thing lacking would be peer review, but just because it's on TV doesn't mean it's wrong.

 

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Posted by wanswheel on Monday, March 8, 2010 8:16 PM
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Posted by steve14 on Monday, March 8, 2010 7:14 PM

Paul--I must have down loaded the report early enough to get the whole thing, because only the Summary shows on the NTSB web site now.

Aegrotatio--The TPG span was destroyed by the train, yes that is fact. The key point is that the barge moved the span over 38" so as to be in line for the train to hit it. With the force of impact of the barge, no amount of anchor bolts would have held that end of the bridge in place.

I don't really think anyone slandered the NTSB. Are you referring to Blue Streak 1's differentiation between an FRA accident report, which is confined to facts, and an NTSB report which brings in a great deal more analysis and recommended changes, etc?

If there was additional info developed for that show, it would be nice to see it and know who and how it was developed. As Paul said-- TV show vs NTSB, who ya' gonna believe?

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Posted by Anonymous on Monday, March 8, 2010 4:09 PM

A couple years ago, a U.P. train running on the ex-M&StL line from Chaska, MN to Merriam Junction, crushed a short (50’ long) timber trestle spanning a watercourse draining into the adjacent Minnesota River and dumped several cars into the water.  Due to having only one customer on the line, U.P. abandoned it rather than rebuild the trestle.  Interestingly, that same trestle was struck by lightning and set ablaze in the 1910-1915 era, and an CMStP&O freight broke through the smoldering timbers before the engineer realized the bridge was on fire.

 

On that same line, there is a much larger, multiple span deck girder bridge on stone piers spanning the Minnesota River at Carver, MN.  In earlier times, the M&StL routinely had commercial divers enter the river and inspect the bedding of the stone piers.  Over the last 20 years or so, one of those stone piers has settled unevenly, apparently due to the river scouring out the bedding for the pier. 

 

Before operations ended, that pier was tipped toward downstream so that its top was about 12”-18” out of alignment.  It was very visible as a large dip and offset in the bridge deck, and in just looking at the pier compared to the rest of the piers.  I found it hard to believe that U.P. continued to use the bridge when the pier bedding was so obviously compromised.  How could you be sure of the pier performance at any given train event when the condition of the pier was obviously changing over time?  How many degrees can you tip a GP-38 before you concentrate so much extra loading on the tipped pier that it tips further?   

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Posted by aegrotatio on Monday, March 8, 2010 4:00 PM

 I don't think the program fabricated the idea that the barge moved a swing span that was not fastened properly.  I'm having a look at the NTSB report.

It's funny how in the same forum we have slandered the NTSB and have now praised it.

Oh, and it was the train that destroyed the end of the bridge, not the barge.  That's an important point of fact.

 I should add that these shows often have additional research not included in the reports.

Anyway, here are some more documents:

http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/fa-163b.pdf

 

EDIT:  The original is still only in book or microfiche form.

 

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Monday, March 8, 2010 3:34 PM

I also recall most of what steve14 posted above about that disaster, and hence agree with him on that.  (BY the way, ''TPG'' = Through Plate Girder.)  I looked earlier and was not able to find the full report - maybe it was moved to someplace I'm not familiar with ? - the best I could find was the below summary of the NTSB report, which didn't address the precise issue here.  Nevertheless, my recollection is that it was a definitely a fixed portion of the bridge that was distorted on the order of 3 ft. out of line by the barge tow's impact - I thought it was more like trestlework than a pier and the TPG, but my memory is not clear or certain on that.  Simple consideration of the mass/ weight of that tow moving at a couple miles per hour tells you that when it hit that fixed structure, serious damage was going to be done - there's no energy absorption or attenuaiton device or arrangement on either one, other than the distortion and deformation resulting from the collision damage, which is what finally brought the barge tow to a stop. 

RAILROAD-MARINE ACCIDENT REPORT
Adopted: September 19, 1994
DERAILMENT OF AMTRAK TRAIN NO. 2
ON THE CSXT BIG BAYOU CANOT BRIDGE
NEAR MOBILE, ALABAMA
SEPTEMBER 22, 1993

NTSB Number: RAR-94/01
NTIS Number: PB94-916301

http://www.ntsb.gov/publictn/1994/RAR9401.htm 

[EDIT]:  Here's the NTSB's summary of the causes - note that all 3 of the principal causes are marine-related, not rail-related.  As between some sensationalistic TV show and the NTSB, I give the NTSB a whole lot more credence [emphasis added - PDN]:

"The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable causes of Amtrak train 2's derailment were the displacement of the Big Bayou Canot railroad bridge when it was struck by the MAUVILLA and tow as a result of the MAUVILLA's pilot becoming lost and disoriented in the dense fog because of (1) the pilot's lack of radar navigation competency; (2) Warrior & Gulf Navigation Company's failure to ensure that its pilot was competent to use radar to navigate his tow during periods of reduced visibility; and (3) the U.S. Coast Guard's failure to establish higher standards for inland towing vessel operator licensing. Contributing to the accident was the lack of a national risk assessment program to determine bridge vulnerability to marine vessel collision."

[END EDIT]

Here's the link to the NTSB's list of ''Railroad Accident'' reports:

http://www.ntsb.gov/Publictn/R_Acc.htm  

If someone has a link to the full NTSB report, that would be appreciated.

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Posted by steve14 on Monday, March 8, 2010 3:12 PM

I have been reading this string and keeping quiet, but I think some things need to be said.

While I have never seen an episode of "Seconds from Disaster", I do have to take issue with the assertion that the barge hit (not a bump) should not have damaged the bridge.

The NTSB report clearly shows the impact point was on the pier under the north end of a 165' truss and the south end of the 140' TPG and on the center pier of that TPG. The TPG was, according to the report, built in 1909 to replace a truss span. The intention seemed to be to create a swing span. No machinery was ever installed. The south pier of the TPG is concrete. The south end was the expansion end, the north end was the fixed end, hence no direct anchoring of the span to the pier. It was fastened correctly.

The south end of the TPG "was displaced 38" by the barge and was subsequently destroyed when  tran 2 struck the displaced girder" to quote from the NTSB report. That is hardly a "bump"

Please, when you are commenting on incidents such as this, it helps if you take a little time and consider what sources you are referencing. 

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Monday, March 8, 2010 12:23 PM

CShaveRR
  I remember one near failure of a bridge here in Chicago. It was the CTA's connecting line between the old south side "L" to the new line in the median of the Dan Ryan Expressway. Somebody riding under this bridge on a commuter train noticed what he thought was a crack in one of the girders--and he was right. Things were very hastily shored up, and the line was returned to service in a relatively short time. I don't know to what extent the bridge was rebuilt, but it is now used by the CTA's Orange Line trains to Midway Airport. 

From the Transportation Research Board's publication "EVALUATION AND FIELD TESTING OF THE DAN RYAN RAPID TRANSIT STRUCTURE" at - http://pubsindex.trb.org/view.aspx?id=210102 [emphasis added - PDN] -

"The Dan Ryan rapid transit structure is a 40-span, 4,000-ft-long elevated structure that carries Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) rapid transit trains into and out of the Chicago Loop.  The structure, which was completed in 1969, consists of welded stringers and is supported by steel box-girder bents. Splices in the stringers are field bolted.  The steel stringers carry two sets of track on a ballasted concrete deck.  In January 1978 major brittle fractures ocurred in three of the steel box-girder bents.  Since discovering the bent fractures, CTA inspectors found two long cracks in the bottom of the stringers.  These cracks were found to originate at welded lateral gusset-plate connections.  Approximately 1,800 lateral gussets are used in the 40-span system to attach lateral bracing.  Each gusset plate contains a cutout to accommodate the vertical stiffener of the stringer.  This detail creates a short gap between the cutout of the gusset and the vertical stiffener.  An extensive investigative study of seven spans of the superstructure was carried out to assess the fatigue sensitivity of the stringers with the lateral gusset-plate connections.  The study included a review of details used in the structure, field instrumentation and testing, an analytical review, in-depth examination of gusset-plate connections, examination and testing of samples that contain cracks, and the development of retrofits.  The information collected during the study, particularly the field testing data, is reviewed.  Reviews are also made of the fractographic examination conducted on a sample that contains a 4-in. crack and the in-depth inspection findings.  As part of this study retrofits were developed to either shield the crack origin from stress or to increase the gap between the gusset-plate cutout and the vertical stiffener."

The correct name of the fellow who noticed the cracks was Hernan Solarte, P.E., a Rock Island RR bridge engineer, who received a commendation from the City of Chicago for noticing the problem.  Some details from the Ed King article referenced above to follow in a day or so.  Mr. Solarte is still active in the business - the firm he now works for had a lot to do with the recent Cajon Pass project for BNSF. 

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Posted by route_rock on Monday, March 8, 2010 11:43 AM

  HAd a trestle collapse under a loco in 2008 in Columbus Jct Iowa. Also Turkey River bridge ( not sure if it was 2008 still or earlier for this one) up on the Marquette sub. Two bridges one railroad. Kinda rare these days.

Yes we are on time but this is yesterdays train

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Monday, March 8, 2010 11:30 AM

nanaimo73
  I can think of two bridge failures here in British Columbia, both were wooden bridges owned by Canadian National. A bridge collapsed under a freight train, which resulted in the death of two CN employees on May 14, 2003 near McBride, British Columbia.
http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/mediaroom/releases-nat-2004-04-h031e-3527.htm

The other was on the line to Kitimat. It happened as the wood towers were being replaced with steel, and a crane was on the bridge at the time. 

The full report by the TSB of Canada on this McBride bridge collapse - consisting of 69 pages, approx. 654 KB in size -

RAILWAY INVESTIGATION REPORT - R03V0083

MAIN-TRACK DERAILMENT - CANADIAN NATIONAL TRAIN NO. 356-51-14

MILE 7.9, FRASER SUBDIVISION - MCBRIDE, BRITISH COLUMBIA

14 MAY 2003

- can be found at - 

 http://www.tsb.gc.ca/eng/rapports-reports/rail/2003/r03v0083/r03v0083.pdf 

Short version from page 41 (49 of 69 of the 'PDF' format version) is that there were severe deterioration in some of the timber trestle components - which had been identified 4 years earlier - but which were later overlooked and not followed-up on:

2. It is most likely that cap 15 crushed under the weight of the lead locomotive when its bearing capacity was exceeded, leading to the bridge caving in and the subsequent derailment.

3. As the load shared by stringers 5 and 6 of span 15 was increased due to the internal rot of the adjacent stringers, the reaction load transferred to cap 15 was concentrated over a smaller area, thus exerting increased stresses over the existing void in cap 15.

4. The condition of cap 15, identified as reject in the 1999 detailed report, was not reflected in subsequent inspection reports.  Therefore, its continuing deterioration was not reassessed.

5. The failure to identify the urgency and the severity of the condition of the bridge was not recognized, despite subsequent inspections, because of shortcomings in the inspection, assessment, planning, and maintenance process.

6. As a result of heavy workload, and overlapping duties during job transitions, the Planning and Inspection (P & I) Engineer relied on the inspectors’ overall assessments and most recent visual inspection reports, which did not indicate any deficiencies on the bridge. Therefore, the severity and urgency of the condition that was identified in 1999 was not recognized.

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Posted by aegrotatio on Monday, March 8, 2010 10:25 AM

A recent "Seconds from Disaster" about the Bayou Canot accident asserted that the investigators determined that the bump from the barge should not have damaged the bridge, and in fact part of the bridge that was contacted (the non-swing part) did not move.  The problem was that the bridge was a swing bridge whose swing mechanism was "decomissioned" improperly.

Unfortunately, only the *rails* were holding the bridge in place.  When the barge struck the bridge part of it hit the swing span and the rails deformed enough to allow the bridge to move several inches.

Had the swing span been fastened in place the accident would not have happened.  The barge impact would have had little to no effect.

Of course the barge should not have been in the canot, but the bridge should have been fastened correctly.

 It is not just one factor in this case.

 

 

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Posted by erikem on Sunday, March 7, 2010 4:13 PM

mudchicken

Timber structures are still driven by railroads in places.

 

I'm guessing that a timber bridge can be put in place faster than most steel or concrete bridges as a pile driver can drive a lot of piles in the time it takes to prepare foundations for a steel or concrete bridge. If conditions are such that a timber bridge will last more than 30 years, it wouldn't take much of an initial costs savings for it to be cheaper in the long run to replace the bridge when needed.

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Posted by BaltACD on Sunday, March 7, 2010 3:08 PM

Murphy Siding

blue streak 1
The report was only factual since it was a FRA and not NTSB report.

 ?  Can you explain that comment?

Personal observation....NTSB findings seem to be swayed more by political winds from time to time.

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Posted by mudchicken on Sunday, March 7, 2010 11:28 AM

Timber structures are still driven by railroads in places. (For that matter, there are still timber trestles/bridges still under US Highways and State Highways here in Colorado.) There are ways to stiffen bridges as well (eg steel caps and stringers or T-Rail under the ballast decks)....Shortlines probably more than Class 1's, but the thinking that goes behind the decision(s) makes it interesting, usually centered around lifecycle economics, climate and tonnage. 

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Posted by OldArmy94 on Saturday, March 6, 2010 9:51 PM
When KCS was rebuilding the "Macaroni LIne" between Rosenberg and Victoria, TX, they replaced the wooden trestles with concrete bridges; they did leave the existing wooden and iron structure over the Lavaca River.
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Posted by Murphy Siding on Saturday, March 6, 2010 8:59 PM

nanaimo73

I can think of two bridge failures here in British Columbia, both were wooden bridges owned by Canadian National. A bridge collapsed under a freight train, which resulted in the death of two CN employees on May 14, 2003 near McBride, British Columbia.
http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/mediaroom/releases-nat-2004-04-h031e-3527.htm

The other was on the line to Kitimat. It happened as the wood towers were being replaced with steel, and a crane was on the bridge at the time.

  Would a fallen wood bridge genrally be replaced with a metal bridge?  Do the railroads still build new wood bridges?

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Saturday, March 6, 2010 8:07 PM

Question :: What is the route of the SRMs? UP - KCS - M&B - CSX - FEC? Could be the gulf coast route of CSX (L&N) could not take the overweight cars?

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Posted by erikem on Saturday, March 6, 2010 7:18 PM

Deggesty

blue streak 1
According to the accident report UP originated the train (where ?).

The rocket motors are made in Utah, near Salt Lake City.

 

The Shuttle SRM's are made in Alliant Techsystem's plant in Promontory.

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Posted by Deggesty on Saturday, March 6, 2010 12:59 PM

Two more reports of boats on rivers damaging or destroying railroad bridges:

In 1978,  I was taking the Floridian from Birmingham to Chicago, and while I was waiting for the train, we were told that a tow had hit the Southern bridge across the Tennessee at Decatur, Ala. Rather than wait for a full assessment of the damage and perhaps necessary repair, Amtrak chartered buses to ferry passengers between Birmingham and Nashville. I do not recall hearing, later, of necessary repair.

One of the roads that was absorbed into the East Tennessee Virginia and Georgia was built from Rome, Ga, and Meridian, Miss., by way of Anniston, Selma, Demopolis, and York, Ala. I do not remember just what year it was that a riverboat hit the bridge across the Tombigbee at Demopolis (I do not have the memory of resident of Benevola, Ala. who told me this), but the 6/15/31 timetable of the Southern shows a through train between Rome and Meridian (using the AGS between York and Meridian), and the next timetable I have (9/36) shows no service between Demopolis and McDowell (4.9 miles west of Demopolis). The Southern did not rebuild the bridge, but used the line from Marion Junction to Akron to handle traffic to York from Selma. Even this line, as well as the line from McDowell to York, is gone now.

There is a note to the Rome-York timetable--"Note: No train service betweenDemoplis and McDowell, Ala. Through passengers between Selma and Meridain handled between Marion Junction and Akron. See Tables 66 and 10. A passenger would really have to want to go from Selma to Meridian, since he had to take a mixed train at 5:00 am, and would wait in Akron from 8:40 until 10:40 for the Queen and Crescent to take him on to York and Meridian. Eastbound, he would leave Meridian on the local, #18, at 6:30 am, arrive in Akron at 8:43 am,  leave on the mixed at 9:30, and arrive in Selma at 1:05 pm.

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Posted by Deggesty on Saturday, March 6, 2010 12:33 PM

blue streak 1
According to the accident report UP originated the train (where ?).

The rocket motors are made in Utah, near Salt Lake City.

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Posted by Murphy Siding on Saturday, March 6, 2010 10:56 AM

blue streak 1
The report was only factual since it was a FRA and not NTSB report.

 ?  Can you explain that comment?

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Saturday, March 6, 2010 10:51 AM

A "handling carrier" arrangement is very similar to a "haulage" arrangement between two Class I roads,  In a "haulage" arrangement. the "hauling" carrier actually provides the service, but does not appear in the pricing documents or in the waybill. 

Absolutely not!!

Maybe I did not make it clear. According to the accident report UP originated the train (where ?). As the originating carrier they were responsible for initiating the overweight protocols for at least their operation. My question on that was why place 8 axels that close together when an idler car would have spread the load and not get close to UP cooper loading for any of their bridges.

Then it was definitely up to M&B ( and maybe the UP)* to verify that loads were not exceeded. Now the report stated that 2 different UP "WILD" reports had the load way over the rated load of the M&B bridge for 2 adjaecent cars (8 axels). The report was only factual since it was a FRA and not NTSB report. There was not any recommendation or even mention of idler cars which would have probably prevented this accident.  ( $3.0M +) . Obviously M&B shuld have added idler flats.

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Posted by Bruce Kelly on Saturday, March 6, 2010 9:41 AM

The Bonners Ferry collapse was on December 6, 1985. Fortunately, only eight cars on the rear of the train (which was cabooseless by then) fell in, so no locomotives or employees were lost. It was one of the few wooden through-truss railroad bridges still in existence. UP was already building a new plate girder bridge next to it; completion schedule was sped up and they had the last span and track panel laid down two days later. My photo of the wooden bridge pre-collapse was in the December 1987 Trains. A photo of the aftermath was in the April 1987 Trains.

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Posted by nanaimo73 on Saturday, March 6, 2010 1:45 AM

I've remembered a pair of bridge failures in Northern Idaho.

During April 2006 part of the former Milwaukee Road pile trestle at Benewah gave way under a St. Maries River crane. It was repaired more than a year later.
http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/srchThumbs.aspx?srch=benewah&search=Search

The other took place much sooner (early 1980s?) when a former Spokane International trestle collapsed under a Union Pacific train, at Bonners Ferry(?). I believe at the time a replacement trestle was almost ready beside the failed bridge, so the line was not closed for too long.

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Posted by Falcon48 on Friday, March 5, 2010 11:58 PM

CShaveRR
I remember one near failure of a bridge here in Chicago. It was the CTA's connecting line between the old south side "L" to the new line in the median of the Dan Ryan Expressway. Somebody riding under this bridge on a commuter train noticed what he thought was a crack in one of the girders--and he was right. Things were very hastily shored up, and the line was returned to service in a relatively short time. I don't know to what extent the bridge was rebuilt, but it is now used by the CTA's Orange Line trains to Midway Airport.

 

The "somebody" was a CRI&P bridge engineer who understood the significance of what he saw, and reported it as soon as could reach a telephone (this was before cell phones).

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Posted by Falcon48 on Friday, March 5, 2010 11:52 PM

blue streak 1

Paul_D_North_Jr
FRA's investigation determined that the probable cause of this accident was bridge failure, caused by the rotation of several of the timber bents of Bridge 48.8, under a train load that exceeded the normal load capacity of the bridge.

Paul North: There are several questions not asked or answered in this report. I'll go in order of occurrence.

1. Had other rocket booster trains also gone over this bridge in the past?

2. If so when was the last occurence?

3, If so did past trains have idler cars?

4. If so had there been a major weather event such as high water that may have caused lowering of the actual loads?

5. Why did UP not use idler cars even though their track could take this loading and did they cross any bridges on UP that may have the bridge's cooper ratings exceeded?

6. Was UP notified by M & B of the load limit? I thought that was always done before and oversize/ overweight loads?

7. Did M&B ETT show the load limit?

8, Why did M&B not insert idler cars? Did they think they were not as heavy as they turned out? * 8 axels over that short of a span certainly should have rung bells as to probably exceed cooper ratings.

9. Why run the first train using very high loads over the bridge when another train was there?

10. Why run passengers over the bridge?

11. Why various officals stand so close that they had to run when bridge started collasping?

Well----- we will never hear all these answers.

 

  Some of these questions seem to assume that UP was actually operating the train that derailed. I don't recall all of the circumstances of this incident, so I may be mistaken, but I don't think the train was being operated by UP.  The reason it might seem to have been a UP train is because of the nature of the interline arrangements Class I railroads often make with connecting short lines. They go by various names, but the most common is "handling carrier".  Under this kind of arrangement, the Class I road's pricing documents make it appear that the Class I road serves the short line stations.  Further, the movement documents will not show the short line as being in the route.  That makes it appear, at least from the paperwork, as though the Class I road is actually performing the service to the short line's stations.  But it isn't.  The short line is actually performing the service, and the Class I road (not the shipper) is paying it an agreed charge for the service.  The Class I is responsible for all of the dealings with the customer.

A "handling carrier" arrangement is very similar to a "haulage" arrangement between two Class I roads,  In a "haulage" arrangement. the "hauling" carrier actually provides the service, but does not appear in the pricing documents or in the waybill. 

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Posted by wanswheel on Friday, March 5, 2010 10:05 PM

Los Angeles Times

September 23, 1993

Amtrak Train Derails in Bayou, Killing 44

Sunset Limited from L.A. plunges off bridge in Alabama. A barge may have rammed into trestle.

J. MICHAEL KENNEDY and ERIC HARRISON, TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SARALAND, Ala. — The Amtrak Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to Miami with 206 people aboard hurtled off an aging trestle early Wednesday and plunged like a steel stone into a foggy Alabama bayou, killing 44 and leaving at least three others trapped in wreckage that sank into an ink-black swamp crawling with snakes and alligators.

A locomotive erupted into flames, burning its crew. Fire spread to the wood-and-steel trestle. One of the coach cars hung over the edge of the 84-year-old structure but did not fall. Riders, many of them asleep when the train derailed at 2:47 a.m. local time, screamed and scrambled through the wreckage. Several rescued others, including a 3-year-old boy.

The FBI said a tugboat pushing six barges loaded with concrete and coal might have rammed and weakened the trestle shortly before the Sunset Limited arrived. "One of those barges has a big dent in it," said special agent Chuck Archer in Mobile, Ala. He said concrete had been broken away from the foundation of the trestle and that pieces of concrete were found on the barge.

Amtrak said it was the worst train wreck in its history. The toll could eclipse the cumulative total of 48 people killed in all crashes on Amtrak since it was created 23 years ago to run the nation's long-distance passenger trains. Alabama Gov. Jim Folsom, who flew over the bayou as smoke and steam rose from the wreckage, said, "It was the most terrible sight I have ever witnessed."

About 40 people on the train when it crashed had boarded in Los Angeles, an Amtrak official said. There was no immediate word on whether any of them were among the fatalities. Authorities said they did not expect to complete a list of the dead before today. They said most of the victims were found inside the train cars. Five of the injured were hospitalized in critical condition.

The Sunset Limited, which became a coast-to-coast train five months ago by extending the eastern end of its run from New Orleans to Miami, carried 189 passengers and a crew of 17. It left Los Angeles on Sunday, changed crews in New Orleans and headed toward Alabama. Shortly before 3 a.m. Wednesday, it approached the trestle over Bayou Canot about 10 miles north of Mobile.

An hour earlier, a 132-car CSX freight train with three locomotives had crossed the trestle without mishap.

The trestle speed limit for passenger trains is 70 m.p.h. It was not known how fast the Sunset Limited was rolling. Like almost everyone, Mike Dopheide, 26, of Omaha, Neb., was asleep. He had gotten on in Los Angeles after visiting his sister in Highland Park. "Suddenly I was bumped on the floor, and you could hear the brakes squealing," he said afterward. "I knew then that we had derailed."

It was dark. Flames spread from one of the three locomotives, Dopheide said, and people around him could not find emergency exits. He said his car began filling with water and smoke.

"Oh, my God!" a woman shouted. "We're going to die."

Dopheide finally found a door and tried to open it. It would not budge. Then he noticed a piece of timber. It had smashed through a window, he said, and was keeping the car from submerging completely. But he saw that it offered a way to escape. He climbed through the window and out onto the timber.

He saw four Amtrak crew members standing on the roof of one of the locomotives.

"Did you radio for help?" Dopheide shouted.

"No," one of them replied. "There's no radios."

Around him Dopheide saw a tragedy. All three locomotives and four of the eight cars on the train were off the bridge and in the bayou. One of the cars was for baggage, another was a dormitory car for the crew. The other two were passenger coaches.

The water was 25 feet deep. One of the coach cars was covered completely. The nose of the 80-foot lead locomotive was buried in bayou silt. Its crew members were still inside. A lounge car, a dining car, a sleeping car and a coach car were standing on the trestle.

A third of the coach car hung over the edge.

In the glow from the burning locomotive, survivors--joined by rescuers in helicopters and nearby residents in boats--tried to save as many people as possible. Several of the passengers were elderly. Dopheide helped eight of them through the timber-shattered window.

A tugboat appeared, shining a high-intensity beam of light on the wreckage. The tug inched its way to the side of the railroad cars, but it pushed too much debris against them to get close. It backed away and sent in two flat-bottomed skiffs.

Dopheide helped his eight survivors onto the boats.

Others climbed out of the train. They grabbed wooden debris to stay afloat until more help arrived. Dopheide was suddenly aware of the silence.

"Most people weren't saying anything to me because they were too frightened to talk," he said. "They were just holding onto debris or to each other. One lady was holding onto someone's belt."

Before long, the fire spread along the trestle and drew closer to wrecked cars.

Dopheide said he climbed back inside to see if anyone had been left behind. He searched for his glasses. People shouted at him, he said, asking him to look for medicine and purses. He said he threw out some duffel bags--but could not find his own belongings.

Then he scrambled back out to safety.

The bayou is home to snakes and alligators, some say bears as well. While alligators normally flee a disturbance as big as a train crash, some passengers in the water-filled cars worried about the snakes, which might be more venturesome.

"The car we were in sank," said Robert Watts, 61, a retired fire captain from Placerville, Calif. Finally, he said, someone opened a safety exit and the water poured in, cold and fast.

"I guess I was physically moving," Watts said later, "but I wasn't mentally coherent until the water rose to my waist and I realized, 'Hey this is serious, this is not a *** dream.' "

He said the water swirled like a whirlpool in a kitchen sink.

At one point, Watts thought he would die. "I thought, 'This is it. I'm ending my life here.' "

A woman with a 3-year-old boy shouted from across the aisle. "The mother hollered to take the baby. I took him and shoved him out and hollered for someone to take the baby. Someone did. And all of us bailed out."

Watts said he and his wife Betty, 58, along with several others held onto floating railroad ties. "My wife and I didn't get to the same railroad tie, but we kept within eyesight."

Every time he looked at his wife, he said, she seemed farther away. "But things were happening so fast," he said, "there was no time to get scared."

It was difficult, he said, to push the ties against the current in the bayou.

Watts said he and his wife were in the water for about 30 minutes before they reached safety. Ashore, he found the 3-year-old and his mother.

"That little boy never fussed or bothered. He just thought, 'Hey, this is a great game!' "

Not far away, Al Paiz, 52, of Mora, N.M., watched another rescue.

Seated next to him in one of the train cars was Fred Russell, 70, of Indio, Calif. "There was suddenly a roller coaster sensation," Paiz said. "Then the train was skidding on the track. It jumped, and everybody started sliding."

"There was a kid in the water having trouble," Paiz said. "He could not swim. Fred jumped out the window and dropped 20 feet to the water below to help."

Paiz, who cannot swim, said he admired his septuagenarian seatmate for taking that plunge. For his part, Paiz said he helped other passengers out through a window on the lower side of his car. He said he was the last to leave.

"I'm sure some of the people didn't get out," Paiz said, through tears.

Paiz was on his way to Miami for open heart surgery. He said he tried to stay calm as he finally dropped from one of the lower windows six feet down into the water.

The water was over his head, he said, and he held onto beams from the bridge until a boat came by and rescued him.

He was pronounced in good condition at a nearby hospital. He said Fred Russell reached shore safely as well.

By now, divers were going through submerged portions of the railroad cars hand over hand.

"Search conditions are very difficult because of the murky waters," said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Dwight McGee. "It's frustrating when you know that there are survivors in need and you can't help."

The divers lifted bodies onto a barge. From there, they were taken to a lumber mill in the nearby town of Chickasaw. It served as a temporary morgue.

At one point during the afternoon, the search for bodies and survivors was suspended when it became apparent that a crane was needed to stabilize one of the railroad cars before divers could enter it safely.

"It shifted with the current and the weight inside," said Mobile Police Chief Harold Johnson. "We're trying to stabilize it because we don't want any more fatalities."

When asked whether the engineer of the train had been interviewed about possible causes for the accident, Johnson replied: "We believe he is underwater."

Archer, special agent in charge of the Mobile office of the FBI, said his investigators were looking into three possible causes: sabotage, structural defects and the likelihood that the bridge had been rammed by barges.

He placed most of his emphasis upon the barges. The tugboat pushing them might have taken a wrong channel during the foggy night, he said. They were found lashed together and moored in the Mobile River about a quarter of a mile from the crash site.

"We're looking at them," he said, "because one of those barges has a big dent in it."

Agents interviewed the tug operator but declined to identify him or reveal what he said.

Archer said the barges were not supposed to be in the waterway. The bayou is too shallow under the trestle, he said, and the bridge supports are not wide enough to accommodate barge traffic.

John Hammerschmidt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, also investigating the crash, said scrape marks on the barge seemed to match scrape marks on the trestle.

http://www.trainweb.org/vangab/bigbayou.htm

  • Member since
    October 2006
  • From: Allentown, PA
  • 9,619 posts
Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Friday, March 5, 2010 9:44 PM

jscott/ Scott is exactly right - as I recall, the fellow's name was Hernan DeSoto, or similar.  The whole episode was written up in layman's language in an article in Trains by Ed King as one of his 'trials and tribulations' as Manager of Suburban Services (or a similar title) for the Rock Island back then.  See -

Disaster du jour and other stories
Trains, June 1986 page 30
Three years, Manager of Suburban Operations
( COMMUTER, "KING, ED", RI, TRN )

It happened on a bitter cold morning in January, as I recall.  What happened is that the pier or column cracked extensively - almost broke - where a brace was welded into it.  The investigation resulted in the documentation of a phenomenon known as 'lamellar tearing', which often results from the high heat of welding and subsequent cooling stresses, perpendicular to the main axis of a member, among other causes.  Some of the members may have had to have been replaced - temporary repairs included shoring and cribbing as reinforcement.  As I recall, some of the permanent repairs involved rewelding the connection, and even drilling a hole in the main member to act as a 'stop' in the event the crack re-developed and propagated that far again.  Moer generally, it led to much closer reviews and some changes in how those kinds of connections were 'detailed' and fabricated.

- Paul North. 

 

"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
  • Member since
    August 2006
  • From: WI
  • 546 posts
Posted by Doublestack on Friday, March 5, 2010 8:16 PM

UP had a bridge collapse very similar to the Pallisades NV collapse a few years ago (may 05) in North Central ILL at Galt, IL (near Sterling) on the old C&NW line.  Train derailed and took out a through truss bridge.  UP built a temp shoo-fly around it until the double track main was restored.

http://www.uprr.com/customers/service/galtderailment.shtml

http://www.pbase.com/trailryder/up_derailment_galt_illinois

 

Thx, Dblstack

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