1993 Big Bayou Canot train wreck

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1993 Big Bayou Canot train wreck
Details
Date September 22, 1993
Time 2:53 am[1]
Location Mobile, Alabama[1]
Country United States
Rail line CSX Transportation
Operator Amtrak[1]
Type of incident Derailment
Cause Barge collision with bridge / wrong design [1]
 
Statistics
Trains 1
Passengers 220
Deaths 47[1]
Injuries 103[1]

The 1993 Big Bayou Canot train wreck[1] was the derailing of an Amtrak train on the CSXT Big Bayou Canot bridge in northeast Mobile, Alabama, USA, killing 47 and injuring 103, on September 22, 1993.[2] It is the deadliest train wreck in Amtrak's history and the deadliest rail disaster in the United States since the Newark Bay, New Jersey rail accident in 1958.[1] In terms of fatalities and destruction, this wreck substantially exceeded the severity of the Chase, Maryland accident that occurred in 1987. It was caused by a barge hitting the bridge. Noted Calvinist author and theologian R. C. Sproul was one of the passengers on the train during the time of the incident and often gives firsthand accounts of the story.[3]

Events[edit]

This wreck occurred after a CSX Transportation unfinished swing bridge over the Big Bayou Canot in southwestern Alabama (about 10 miles northeast of Mobile) was struck at approximately 2:45 AM by a barge being pushed by the towboat Mauvilla (owned and operated by Warrior and Gulf Navigation of Chickasaw, Alabama), whose pilot had become disoriented in heavy fog. The collision forced the bridge approximately three feet out of alignment and severely kinked the track.

At approximately 2:53 AM,[1] Amtrak's Sunset Limited train, powered by three locomotives (one GE Genesis P40DC number 819 in the front, and two EMD F40PHs, numbers 262 and 312) en route from Los Angeles, California to Miami, Florida with 220 passengers and crew aboard, crossed the bridge at a high speed and derailed at the kink. The locomotives slammed into the bridge's superstructure, causing its destruction. The lead locomotive embedded itself nose-first into the canal bank and exploded, and the other locomotives, as well as the baggage car, dormitory car and two of the six passenger cars, plunged into the water. The locomotives' fuel tanks, each of which held several thousand gallons of diesel fuel, ruptured upon impact,[1] resulting in a massive fuel spill and a fire. Forty-seven people, 42 of whom were passengers,[1] were killed, many by drowning, others by fire/smoke inhalation. Another 103 were injured. The towboat's four crewmembers were not injured.[1]

Immediately prior to the accident, the Mauvilla had made a wrong turn and entered an un-navigable channel of water. The towboat's pilot was not properly trained on how to read his radar and thus, owing to the very poor visibility in the fog and his lack of experience, did not realize that he was off-course. Although he was aware that he had struck something when his tow collided with the bridge, his initial supposition was that one of the barges had merely run aground.

The bridge span had actually been designed to rotate so it could be converted to a swing bridge by adding suitable equipment. No such conversion had ever been performed, but the span had not been adequately secured against unintended movement. Despite the displacement of the bridge, the continuously welded rails did not break. As a result, the track circuit controlling the bridge approach block signals remained closed (intact) and the nearest signal continued to display a clear (green) aspect. Had one of the rails been severed by the bridge's displacement, the track circuit would have opened, causing the approach signal to display a stop (red) aspect and the preceding signal an amber approach indication. This might have given the Amtrak engineer sufficient time to stop his train or at least reduce speed in an effort to minimize the severity of the accident.

Analysis[edit]

An episode of the National Geographic Channel documentary series Seconds From Disaster examined this accident in detail.

  • Although there were signals on the line operated by track circuits, the long welded rails did bend, instead of breaking and did not cause the bridge approach signal to change to red. Had jointed rails still been fitted, the signal may have dropped to red, as such rails would more likely have broken at the joints.[citation needed]
  • The train had to stop over in New Orleans, Louisiana, in order that a broken down air conditioner could be repaired. This put the train a half hour behind schedule. If not for the delay, the Sunset Limited would have passed over the Big Bayou Canot bridge a full 20 minutes before it was struck by the barge.
  • The span had actually been designed to rotate so that the bridge could be converted to a swing bridge by installing a motor and control equipment, if it were ever decided that barge traffic warranted this. No such conversion had ever been done and the span's lack of lateral rigidity was a contributing factor to the accident.
  • One span of the bridge was pushed so far out of position that the kink in the line caused the derailment. The span was not fitted with "stops" to keep it in reasonable alignment with other spans of the bridge. Had such stops been fitted, the kink in the line might have been less severe and less dangerous.
  • Had barge traffic posed a regular hazard, special barge collision detection circuits could have been fitted to shunt the signals to red in case of a collision. Similar circuits are used to detect washaways. But the Big Bayou Canot is not navigable, so this seemed nearly pointless.
  • As a result of the accident, towboat pilots are now required to be trained in the use of radar.
  • In post accident analysis, the NTSB, again, called for Amtrak to implement an accurate, on board passenger enumeration ability. Amtrak now records passenger lists electronically.

Official recommendations[edit]

As a result of its investigation of this accident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made the following recommendations, on September 19, 1994, to the 9 groups involved.[1]

To the U.S. Department of Transportation[edit]

The NTSB advised:[1]

"Convene an intermodal task force that includes the Coast Guard, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a standard methodology for determining the vulnerability of the Nation's highway and railroad bridges to collisions from marine vessels, to formulate a ranking system for identifying bridges at greatest risk, and to provide guidance on the effectiveness and appropriateness of protective measures. (Class II, Priority Action) (I-94-3)
"Require that the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Highway Administration, for their respective modes, use the methodology developed by the intermodal task force to carry out a national risk assessment program for the Nation's railroad and highway bridges. (Class II, Priority Action) (1-94-4)
"Require the modal operating administrations to develop and disseminate bulletins, notices, circulars, and other documents that call attention to the need for an employee reporting procedure concerning use of medication (over-the-counter and prescription) while on duty and that urge the transportation industry to develop and implement informational and educational programs related to this subject. (Class II, Priority Action) (1-94-5)
"Consider the use of RACONS, radar reflectors, and other devices to make bridges more identifiable on radar. (Class II, Priority Action) (I-94-6)"

To the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers[edit]

The NTSB advised:[1]

"Cooperate with the U.S. Department of Transportation in developing a standard methodology for determining the vulnerability of the Nation's highway and railroad bridges to collisions from marine vessels, formulating a ranking system to identify bridges at greatest risk, and providing guidance on the effectiveness and appropriateness of protective measures. (Class II, Priority Action) (I-94-7)
"Promote, in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard, the development and application of low-cost electronic charting navigation devices for inland rivers. (Class II, Priority Action) (M-94-30)"

To the U.S. Coast Guard[edit]

The NTSB advised:[1]

"Amend 46 CFR 4 and 16 to specify the time limits, not to exceed 8 hours, within which employers must conduct postaccident alcohol testing. (Class II, Priority Action) (M-94-31)"
"In consultation with the inland towing industry, develop radar training course curricula standards for river towboat operations that emphasize navigational use of radar on rivers and inland waters. (Class II, Priority Action) (M-94-32)
"Upgrade licensing standards to require that persons licensed as Operators of Uninspected Towing Vessels hold valid river-inland waters radar observer certification if they stand navigation watch on radar-equipped towing vessels and to require that employers provide more specific evidence of training. (Class II, Priority Action) (M-94-33)
"Require that all uninspected towing vessels carry appropriate navigational devices, including charts, in the wheelhouse. (Class II, Priority Action) (M-94-34)
"Promote, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the development and application of low-cost electronic charting navigation devices for inland rivers. (Class II, Priority Action) (M-94-35)
"Require that radar be installed on board all uninspected towing vessels except those that operate within very limited areas. (Class II, Priority Action) (M-94-36)
"Require that all bridges vulnerable to impact by commercial marine traffic bear unique, readily visible markings so that waterway and bridge users are better able to identify bridges involved in an accident when they report such accidents to emergency responders. (Class II, Priority Action) (M-94-37)
"Periodically publish a list of bridge identification markings in a national register of bridges. (Class II, Priority Action) (M-94-38)"

To the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak)[edit]

The NTSB advised:[1]

"Develop and implement a uniform system to effectively apprise passengers of information pertaining to safety features. (Class II, Priority Action) (R-94-6)"
"Develop and implement procedures to provide adequate passenger and crew lists to local authorities with minimum delay in emergencies. (Class II, Priority Action) (R-94-7)
"Equip cars with portable lighting for use by passengers in an emergency. (Class II, Priority Action) (R-94-8)

To the Federal Emergency Management Agency[edit]

The NTSB advised FEMA:[1]

"Encourage local authorities to conduct emergency drills that simulate transportation accidents involving railroad operations. (Class II, Priority Action) (I-94-8)"

To The American Waterways Operators, Inc.[edit]

The NTSB advised:[1]

"Recommend that member companies equip their tugs and towboats with suitable navigation devices, including charts. (Class II, Priority Action) (M-94-39)"
"Assist the Coast Guard in developing a curriculum for a training course on river radar navigation. (Class II, Priority Action) (M-94-40)
"Recommend that member companies incorporate into towboat operator evaluations a practical method of assessing proficiency in navigation, including the use of radar. (Class II, Priority Action) (M-94-41)

To the Warrior & Gulf Navigation Company[edit]

The NTSB advised:[1]

"Require that company towboat operators complete a recognized training course on river radar navigation after the curriculum for such a course has been developed. (Class II, Priority Action) (M-94-42)
"Establish a training protocol that requires company towboat operators to demonstrate proficiency in use of radar, compasses, and charts and incorporate into towboat operator evaluations a practical method of assessing proficiency in river navigation techniques, including use of radar. (Class II, Priority Action) (M-94-43)
"Equip all company towboats with a suitable compass, a complete, up-to-date set of navigation charts for the waters over which the vessel is intended to operate. and other appropriate navigational devices. (Class II, Priority Action) (M-94-44)
"Establish procedures that encourage towboat operators to inform management when they are taking medication, to determine whether such medication may affect performance of their duties, and to arrange for a qualified relief, if necessary. (Class II, Priority, Action) (M-94-45)"

To the Association of American Railroads[edit]

The NTSB advised:[1]

"Immediately begin to collect data on vessel collisions with railroad bridges from your members and, if appropriate, take steps to increase protection for bridges identified as vulnerable. (Class II, Priority Action) (R-94-9)
"Cooperate with the U.S. Department of Transportation in developing a national risk assessment program for railroad bridges. (Class II, Priority Action) (R-94-10)"

To the American Short Line Railroad Association[edit]

The NTSB advised:[1]

"Immediately begin to collect data on vessel collisions with railroad bridges from your members and, if appropriate, take steps to increase protection for bridges identified as vulnerable. (Class II, Priority Action) (R-94-11)
"Cooperate with the U.S. Department of Transportation in developing a national risk assessment program for railroad bridges. (Class II, Priority Action) (R-94-12)"

Similar accidents[edit]

There have been numerous incidents throughout the world involving bridge collisions, including the following.

  • The 1953 Tangiwai Bridge disaster in New Zealand, in which 151 people died when a bridge over the Whangaehu River collapsed under the force of a volcanic lahar. Sensors now put the signals to red if a lahar is detected.
  • The 1975 Tasman Bridge disaster in Hobart, the capital city of Australia's island state of Tasmania, when a bridge was hit by a 7,000 ton bulk carrier, causing a 400 foot section of roadway to fall 120 feet into the river below. Twelve deaths resulted.
  • The 1977 Granville train disaster in Sydney, Australia, which involved the collapse of a bridge after its support pylons were struck by a train. This incident was caused in part by inadequately protected and strapped piers and spans. Programs to protect piers of some other bridges were instituted.
  • The Sunshine Skyway Bridge disaster in Tampa Bay, Florida. The southbound span of the original bridge, built in the late sixties, was destroyed on May 9, 1980, when the freighter MV Summit Venture collided with a pier (support column) during a storm, sending over 1200 feet (366m) of the bridge plummeting into Tampa Bay. The collision caused six automobiles and a Greyhound bus to fall 150 feet (46 m), killing 35 people.
  • The Eschede train disaster of 1998 involved a high-speed train which derailed, and carriages hit a nearby motorway bridge.
  • The I-40 bridge disaster of 2002 was caused by a barge hitting the I-40 bridge over the Arkansas River, which collapsed, causing numerous cars to fall in the river. There were 14 fatalities.
  • The Eggner Ferry Bridge partially collapsed on January 26, 2012, when the MV Delta Mariner stuck the bridge after traveling through the recreational channel in the Tennessee River on Kentucky Lake. No injuries were reported

Passenger Note[edit]

One passenger of note, currently holds the only known ticket for the train which derailed, that was not used. Nicholas Moran, Military Specialist for World of Tanks was slated to be on the train at the time of the accident. However, reviewing his own bookings, he decided to take a different train, but did not cancel his booking. He retains the unused ticket to this day, though is looking to donate it to a museum if possible.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v "RAILROAD-MARINE ACCIDENT REPORT 94-1" (RAR-94-1), U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, 1994-09-19, webpage: RAR.
  2. ^ http://www.in.com/1993-big-bayou-canot-train-wreck/profile-1967.html
  3. ^ [1]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 30°49′02″N 87°59′36″W / 30.8173°N 87.9932°W / 30.8173; -87.9932