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» RAILforum » Passenger Trains » Amtrak » Sunset Limited/Bayou Canot wreck article

   
Author Topic: Sunset Limited/Bayou Canot wreck article
Steve O.
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I came across this article the other day regarding the Big Bayou Canot derailment of the Sunset written by one of the conductors on the train...very compelling read...really gives you a sense of what took place that night from the crew's point of view.

destruction of the sunset limited

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44,950 Amtrak rail miles traveled since August 18, 2003.

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dixiebreeze
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Very hard to read, but brilliantly written. How well I remember. I was on the eastbound Sunset that immediately preceded this train. I still feel shaken by that terrible tragedy.
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Mr. Toy
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Wow. Heavy story. Well told. Not recommended for bedtime reading.
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Railroad Bob
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Thanks Native Son, yes, a tough read. During this time period, I was a regular crew member of the Sunset on the LAX-NOL leg, but not on this ill-fated night. However, I personally knew one of the surviving on-board attendants, who had recently transferred from the LA base to the New Orleans base. He later told me his story of rescuing seniors and others in their nightclothes, from the fiery waters, which were infested with snakes, gators and there was also quicksand about. The deaths of the two onboard members occurred in the dorm car, and involved a terrible kind of dying. Conductor Farmer's story brings the horrible night back with great clarity...
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Mr. Toy
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Further research revealed some interesting points that could have prevented the accident.

1. The rail was welded and did not break. If it had been jointed rail, it would have broken and cut the electrical current through the rail. This in turn would have caused the signal to turn red and (hopefully) enabled the train to stop in time. Question: Is welded rail still allowed across bridges? (George?)

2. The bridge was designed to be converted to a lateral swing bridge, with the expected addition of motor and gear systems. However, the conversion never happened and the bridge had never been permanently secured at the ends to prevent it from making lateral movement. If it had, the bridge likely would not have moved when the barge hit the pivot point.

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George Harris
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Mr Toy: That the rail would have broken or separated if it had been jointed is pure speculation. I have my doubts. According to the accident report, the bridge span was pushed sideways 38 inches. It is entirely likely that 132 lb jointed rail with six hole joints, which was the standard on this line prior to welded rail, would have held together in this amount of movement. Spikes do not really hold the rail against train forces. They primarily keep everything properly in line. The thing that keeps rail from overturning is that the resultant of the horizontal and vertical forces never goes beyond the base of the rail. It is therefore entirely possible that jointed rail would have stayed together and pushed over the spike heads in exactly the same manner as the welded rail actually did.

Welded rail is still used on bridges and there is no real reason to stop doing so and a lot of very real reasons to continue is usage. I do not know the credentials or experience of whoever made the statement that use of jointed rail would have ensured a rail break, but I would never make such a statement. There are too many unknowns in the events. In fact, if you were to try to reproduce the results of the sudden movement of the bridge you might not get consistent results of rail break / no rail break with either jointed rail or welded rail.

Item 2 also includes a certain amount of speculation and if-so maybe's. From the accident report, "The bridge was built according to design and was sufficient to carry the vertical loads and horizontal wind loads for which it had been designed." About the only difference I see likely would have been broken bearings and maybe severe distortion of the span instead of pushed off the bearings. To state that the bridge would not have moved after being hit sideways by a mass of several hundred tons seems completely irrational. While I am not a bridge engineer, there is nothing in what I do know about railroad bridges to indicate that the nature of these bearings had any relevance to the outcome of the accident.

The primary and only cause of the accident was the barge tow being run up a non-navigable waterway pushed by a towboat with no compass and operated by a pilot that really could not read his radar.

Proper control of the waterway operation is the only thing that could have prevented this accident.

George

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George Harris
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I have now read the story in the link. It is an emotional sledge hammer. I will have to say this is the first time I have felt any sympathy for Mr. Odom, and now it is hard to express how much I do feel for the man's distress.
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Mr. Toy
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George, thanks for the clarification on the technical issues. I found something on the internet and it looked good enough to be true. [Roll Eyes]

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The Del Monte Club Car

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George Harris
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quote:
Originally posted by Mr. Toy:
George, thanks for the clarification on the technical issues. I found something on the internet and it looked good enough to be true. [Roll Eyes]

Don't worry. There is also a lot of stuff written about track in engineering textbooks that sounds good but is either out of date or simply not true and never was. In fact, when you watch one of these huge double stack container trains going down the track at 70 mph on a track with wood ties and standard American style spikes and tieplates, you are watching something that is impossible. That is if you analyze the system based on the theories used to design track in many places not in this country.
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Railroad Bob
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I have two personal anecdotal stories, (though not about bridge rail circuits.) In the late 70s I used to install "bond wires" on track joints in 136 lb. rail on the old NWP near Santa Rosa CA for the then-current GCP (grade crossing predictors) used in that dark-signal district. As long as those copper pigtails weren't disturbed in jointed rail, no matter how far it was shoved off the tieplates, all rail circuits stayed intact. And back in the 80s while working a #14 near Paso Robles, CA, a large bladed Cat type tractor had shoved rails out of alignment, on a rural grade crossing. Our engineer visually observed the deviation and got the train stopped, just a few feet from the spot. This was jointed rail territory at that time, and the signal governing that block was green (clear.) After a long delay, track gangs repaired the damage and we proceeded.
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Geoff Mayo
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Sorry for the late reply - I've been travelling for the last month around SE Asia. Sadly no real rail travel.

Anyway, it occurred to me - and this might have been covered by the accident report which I last read several years ago - but even if the rails had broken, thus returning the protecting signal to its most restrictive aspect, would it have been in enough time? I know signals can be spaced fairly infrequently and I'm not sure of the timings and positioning here. Apologies if this has been covered in the report.

We've gone for axle counters recently instead of track circuits for several locations, though I believe that idea is being reconsidered. I won't go into all the drawbacks but they are supposed to be easier to maintain and aren't prone to wet trackbeds, such as in tunnels. In this case they wouldn't have detected a rail break either.

On a lighter note, trains were stopped here last year due to a momentary track circuit drop (alarms sound if an unexpected occupation or clearance occur). After delaying several high speed trains it was determined that a horse had managed to stand on both rails whilst on a farm crossing.

Geoff M.

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Geoff M.

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Railroad Bob
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...and the horse completed the low-voltage circuit between the rails! Wet sand could do it too, Geoff. Once our signal crew had to spend several hours shoveling wet sand from between the 'gauge; it was messing up the highway grade crossing signals for the motorists. This was near Petaluma, CA on the old NWP.
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PaulB
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Trains Magazine had an interview with the conductors one or two issues after the accident. It was a well-reported article, and contains many of the same facts that are included in this article.
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