Train derails in Alabama swamp

Train derails in Alabama swamp

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An Amtrak train headed to Miami derails near Mobile, Alabama, killing 47 people on September 22, 1993. The accident, the deadliest in Amtrak’s history, was caused by a negligent towboat operator and foggy conditions.

The Sunset Limited train travels from Los Angeles through Texas to New Orleans before arriving in Miami, Florida. It is known for carrying older people who prefer not to make the trip by air or car. In the very early morning hours of September 22, the train was traveling through Alabama. Three locomotives pulling eight cars left Mobile at 1:30 a.m. heading toward Birmingham across a swampy area.

Meanwhile, the Mauvilla, a towboat operated by the Warrior and Gulf Navigation Company, was pulling six barges of coal and wood through the Alabama marshes. Andrew Stabler, the captain, was sleeping as the towboat and barges made their way up the Mobile River. Willie Odeon, another employee of Warrior and Gulf, was driving the boat, but did not know how to use the radar system. The boat had no compass or nautical charts to assist in navigation on the foggy night and, without realizing it, Odeon turned into the Big Bayou Canot, an area where barges are prohibited.

At 2:45 a.m., the Mauvilla struck a rail bridge. The bridge was only seven to 12 feet above the water (depending on the tides) and was in place so that trains could pass through the swamps. When the boat collided with the bridge, it knocked the tracks out of alignment by three feet. Several minutes later, the Sunset Limited came down the tracks at 70 miles per hour, hit the misplaced tracks and derailed. The three locomotives and the first four cars of the train plunged into the water.

The crew of the Mauvilla did not make a rescue call until 3:08 a.m., but did manage to pull seven survivors out of the swamp. Those who did not drown were put in even more danger when a fire broke out. Two of the disaster’s 47 victims died from burns. The Coast Guard did not arrive on the scene until 4:25 a.m., and it was another hour before the first helicopter arrived to assist in the rescue efforts.

The crew of the Mauvilla was severely criticized for their actions but escaped criminal liability.

Another Bakken Shale Oil Train Derails and Explodes: This Time, in Alabama

A 90-car Bakken Shale oil train derailed and exploded on Friday, November 8th in Alabama, sending flames hundreds of feet into the air. The train carried the same fracked fossil fuel which killed 47 people this summer when a similar train derailed and exploded in Lac Megantic, Canada. It’s also the same fracked contents as in the mile-long trains coming through central Philadelphia twice a day, every day.

Smoke rises from derailed oil train cars in western Alabama on Nov. 8, 2013. Photo: WBMA via Reuters

Aljazeera America reported,

The train was heading from the oil boomtowns of North Dakota to a Shell chemical plant near Mobile, Alabama. Unlike in recent oil train derailments, there were no reports of injuries or deaths. But the incident was another reminder of the dangers of North America’s increased reliance on a patchwork of railroads used to transport billions of gallons of newly discovered oil across the United States and Canada.

Concern had already been raised after a July accident in Lac-Megantic, Canada, in which 47 people were killed.

In Alabama on Friday, 20 of the train’s cars derailed, throwing flames 300 feet into the air. Those cars were being left to burn down, which could take up to 24 hours, according to the train owner, Genesee & Wyoming.

Read the rest of this story here.

Grist further reported that this exploding and burning train polluted the wetlands. See their photo and story: Train loaded with oil derails, explodes, pollutes Alabama wetlands.

Series of Incidents Demonstrates Oil and Gas Train Dangers

Smoke rises in the distance as firefighters block a highway leading to an area where a train derailed, in the small town of Gainford, Alberta west of Edmonton October 19, 2013. Photo: Reuters / Dan Riedlhuber

On October 19th, just three weeks ago, 13 cars of another oil and gas train exploded in Canada. In this case it was the LPG cars — carrying liquified petroleum gas, commonly known as propane — which exploded and caused a fireball. The Bakken Shale oil trains coming through Philadelphia also carry LPG right through densely populated neighborhoods with no known emergency evacuation plan most local populations are completely unaware of the fact that explosive fossil fuels are being transported in their neighborhoods, often within sight and sound and certainly within fireball range. See Fireball as Canadian oil and gas train derails, by RTE News, excerpted below:

One evacuee of the latest accident, Denise Anderson, said her friend’s house burned down as a result of the explosion.

“But I know my son where he’s living, they heard it and they saw the fire. They said the whole backyard lit up. So yeah, it was pretty scary. And a friend of ours, their house burnt down from that. I guess the car ended up, the railroad car ended up in their yard,” Anderson said.

Reuters reported the same incident as it unfolded in “Update 3,” Reuters interviewed the County spokesman:

“We have cars on fire right now and there was an explosion earlier this morning. The major priority right now for our guys out in the field is containing these fires,” said Parkland County spokesman Carson Mills.

How many train derailments, and how many fireballs, does it take to stop the shale oil trains? How much climate change needs to happen before we stop the fracking flaring in the Bakken Shale oilfields, where 1,500 fires are burning right now? Are these the actions of a rational society or the actions of an addict?


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Amtrak wreck on CSX/L&N Big Bayou Canot Bridge in Alabama

(Bridge Hunter NTSB (I could not find a .pdf of the report.) Satellite)

I thought I wrote about this accident. But I guess I'm remembering a TV show on Science Channel.

A tugboat pilot, Willie Odom got lost because of a thick fog and the tow allided with the bridge soon before Amtrak's e/b Sunset Limited crossed the bridge. The tow displaced a span 3' and kinked the tracks causing a derailment that plunged four cars (baggage, dormitory and two passenger) into the water on Sept 22, 1993. The tracks were severely kinked, but they did not break. Since they did not break, they did not trip any stop signals for the train. It was Amtrak's deadliest accident with 47 deaths, 42 of whom were passengers. There were also 103 injuries. The train had 220 passengers. In addition to the obvious hazards of impact and drowning, the diesel fuel from the three wrecked locomotives leaked and caught fire. The three locomotives and the baggage and dormitory cars caught fire. Two of the deaths were because of fire. And the waters were infested with alligators and snakes.

The swing span was a steel girder span to the right of the remaining truss span.

NTSB via Bridge Hunter

David Copeland, Feb 2019, cropped
As is typical with major disasters, several things went wrong to cause the accident.

  • The train was delayed in New Orleans for a half hour to fix a toilet and air conditioner in one of the passenger cars. (If it was on time, it would have crossed the bridge before it was wrecked.)
  • There was a very dense fog.
  • The boat had no compass nor nautical charts so the pilot, without realizing it, went into Big Bayou Canot rather than staying in the Mobile River.
  • The pilot was not properly trained as to how to use the radar. He not only missed the channel of the Mobile River, he interpreted the image of the bridge as a tow and decided to nudge up to it to tie up with it.
  • The ends of the swing span in the bridge were not bolted to the piers after it was decided that the span would no longer ever swing open. This caused the span to be pushed further than a properly secured span would have moved.
  • The rails were modern continuous welded track so they bent rather than broke. So the signals remained clear and the train hit the broken span at 70mph.
  • During the investigation, the company claimed the pilot deliberately went into the bayou to tie down the tow and wait for the fog to lift. This was a lie that added confusion to the investigation. [ChicagoTribune]
  • The accident happened at 2:45am, but the Coast Guard did not arrive until 4:25. The crew of the towboat was able to pull seven survivors out of the swamp. It was another hour until the first helicopter arrived to help. [History]
The following photo shows how the rails bend rather than break when a bridge span is pushed sideways.
Chuck Kulesa posted
Looking at a map, it is easy to see how the pilot entered the Bayou. He needed to turn starboard in order to stay in the river channel.

SFgate, search for "Bayou"
AP Photo/Mark Foley, File
[This is the sixth bridge in an article about the six deadliest bridge collapses in US History. YourConroeNews has the same article.]
[2020: is this the same article? (source)]

  • Teach pilots how to use the radar as a low-visibility navigation aid and as an obstruction recognition tool.
  • The Coast Guard should include radar expertise as part of the testing to obtain a license.
  • Movable spans that no longer will be opened should be securely fastened to their piers.
  • Companies should provide proper navigation aids such as a compass and charts in each of their towboats. I assume that today the towboats should also have a GPS unit.
  • The DOTs in each state should evaluate their transportation bridges (highway and railroad) as to vulnerability to marine accidents.

There are so many YouTube videos, I couldn't decide which one to include.

Ted Gregory posted his experience of this wreck as a railroad employee in Mobile, AL:

Alabama's deadliest train wrecks, plus a brief history of rail accidents

The advent of the railroad system changed America, connecting people in a way never thought possible. But along with the modern technology came the dangers of train cars packed with people hurtling through towns at high rates of speed.

The first train accident recorded in the United States occurred in 1831 when a steam engine called "Best Friend of Charleston" exploded, according to the book "Centennial History of South Carolina Railroad" by Samuel Derrick. The train's fireman was killed, and the engineer and three others were injured.

The deadliest train accident in U.S. history occurred near Nashville in July 1918 when two Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway trains collided head-on at a curve called Dutchman's Bend. Between 100 and 120 people were killed and another 171 were injured. At the time, some rail companies were using wooden train cars, which increased the number of fatalities in the Dutchman's Bend crash, according to the Interstate Commerce Commission.

The No. 1 train, headed from Nashville to Memphis, and the No. 4 train, headed from Memphis to Nashville, had to share a single-lane track for about 10 miles on the route. They collided because of miscalculations by the No. 4 crew and tower operators, the ICC ruled. The crews of both trains were killed.

According to a July 10, 1918, article in The Gettysburg Times, "Most of the killed and injured were on a local train from Nashville, which carried several coaches full of workman going to a nearby powder plant. ..Many of the dead were killed almost instantly, but others were pinned beneath the wreckage and could not be removed before they succumbed. Doctors and nurses rushed to the scene from Nashville and assisted in rescuing injured as well as caring for them."

The Crash at Crush

The public's fascination with trains was so great at the turn of the 20 th century that one Texas entrepreneur decided to wreck two trains in a spectacular fashion as a publicity stunt. In 1896, a valley near Waco along the Missouri, Kansas &Texas Railroad, was re-named Crush, Texas, in preparation for the event.

According to the Texas State Historical Society, a historical marker at the site reads: "On Sept. 15, 1896, more than 40,000 people flocked to this spot to witness one of the most spectacular publicity stunts of the nineteenth century-a planned train wreck. The man behind this unusual event was William George Crush, passenger agent for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad (popularly referred to as "Katy."). In 1895 Crush proposed to Katy officials that the company stage a train wreck as an attraction he planned to advertise the event months in advance, sell tickets to transport spectators to and from the site on Katy trains, and then run two old locomotives head-on into each other. The officials agreed. Throughout the summer of 1896 bulletins and circulars advertising the 'Monster Crash' were distributed throughout Texas."

But the plan went horribly awry. A Sept. 16, 1896, article in The Galveston Daily News reported: "Both engines were completely telescoped and, in spite of all precaution, both boilers promptly exploded, hurling a shower of iron and steel for several hundred yards around, injuring five persons, two seriously and two perhaps fatally." Two men and one woman were killed in the crash.

A look at some of Alabama's deadliest train wrecks

The 1993 derailment near Mobile of the Amtrak Sunset Limited train that killed 47 people and injured more than 100 is among the state's most deadly. Click here to read more.

More than 20 years later, the pain is still palpable so the focus of this list is early railroad accidents. The information was taken from historic newspaper accounts and is not meant to be a definitive history of Alabama train wrecks. If you know of others, email [email protected]

September 1902, 30-50 killed, Berry, Fayette County

On Sept. 1, 1902, a Southern Railway train derailed near Berry, Ala., instantly killing 30 and wounding more than 80 others. According to a Sept. 2, 1902, article in The Atlanta Constitution, doctors estimated at last 29 of the 80 were fatally injured.

The article stated: "While rounding a curve on a high embankment near Berry, Ala., at 9:30 oɼlock this morning the engine and four cars of an excursion train on the Southern railway leaped from the track and rolled over and over, smashing the coaches into kindling wood and causing the instant death of thirty persons and the injury of eighty-one others. . When the wreck occurred the train was running at a rate of 30 miles an hour and just started around a curve on top of a 60-foot embankment. Without warning the tender of the engine suddenly left the track, jerking the engine and the first four cars with it. There were ten cars to the excursion train, but the fourth broke loose from the fifth and with the heavy engine plunged down the steep incline. The cars, which were packed with passengers, turned completely over several times and were crushed like eggshells, killing and crippling the inmates."

December 1896, 22-30 killed, Cahaba River near Birmingham

On Dec. 27, 1896, a deadly crash on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad near Birmingham was blamed on sabotage. A headline in the Dec. 28, 1896, edition of The Dallas Morning News in Texas was headlined: "The Wreck Was the Work of Human Fiends - Charred Corpses Packed in Between the Seats."

The train crashed into the Cahaba River. The article stated it was unknown how many people were aboard but it was likely between 22 and 30 people were killed, most of them miners and their families "who had round-trip holiday tickets and were returning to their homes."

The story said 20 bodies were recovered ". and further search may swell the list of the dead. The wreck, it is regarded as almost certain, was accomplished by the removal of a rail in the middle span of the trestle. This derailed the train, which caused it to fall down the two spans and precipitated it into the river 110 feet below. The wreck was the worst that has ever occurred in the state and the survivors are so few and so badly hurt that they are unable to give any detailed description of how it all happened. It is not known and may never be ascertained just how many passengers were on the train."

A farmer came upon the crash and rode his horse to the nearest telegraph station in Hargrove to report the news. The article stated: "He could hear groans of the wounded and dying, but without waiting to see further he rode his horse rapidly to Hargrove, where the operator telegraphed to Birmingham and Blocton for relief. Meanwhile a few country people gathered at the scene to render what aid they could, but it was too late to do much. Nine persons had got out and the others had been burned up in the wreckage."

November 1913, 13-20 killed, Clayton, Barbour County

On Nov. 13, 1913, a Central of Georgia train carrying passengers to a fair in Eufaula derailed a few miles outside of Clayton, instantly killing 13 people, and fatally injuring at least seven others, according to a Nov. 14 article in The Atlanta Constitution.

The article was headlined: "13 dead, 100 hurt in Alabama wreck: Broken Rail Causes Three Crowded Coaches to Leave the Track and Dash Over Steep Embankment."

The story states: "A broken rail is said to have been the cause of the accident. As the crowded excursion train rounded a curve the three cars at the rear, literally packed with passengers, suddenly left the track, and, breaking away from the others, dashed down the steep embankment. The wrecked coaches were practically demolished. Shrieks and groans of the injured rose above the rending crash of splintering timbers. Occupants of the two coaches which remained on the rails immediately bent their efforts to rescuing the hundreds who were caught in the tangled mass of wreckage."

November 1951, 17 killed, Woodstock, Tuscaloosa County

A rerouted train led to the collision of two passenger trains near Woodstock, Ala., that killed 17 people on Nov. 25, 1951. According to a Feb. 3, 1953, article in The Times Daily, an Alabama Great Southern Railroad streamliner and a Louisville & Nashville train, the Crescent, collided after the L&N train was rerouted on the Great Southern track because a barge damaged a bridge on the L&N line. The Great Southern train was headed from New Orleans to New York, while the Crescent was headed south.

"The Crescent was running as the second section of a southbound Southerner," the article said. "The northbound Southerner pulled onto a siding near Woodstock to permit the southbound Southerner to pass." However, for an unknown reason, the northbound train "moved out of the siding into the path of the Crescent." An investigator with the Interstate Commerce Commission thought perhaps the engineer of the northbound train, who was killed, mistook a ray of sunlight for the signal to proceed.

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Amtrak Train Derails in Bayou, Killing 43 : Disaster: Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to Miami plunges off Alabama bridge, trapping passengers.

The Amtrak Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to Miami with 206 people aboard hurtled off its tracks on an aging trestle early Wednesday and plunged like a steel stone into a foggy Alabama bayou, killing 43 and trapping as many as 10 others in a passenger car that sank into ink-black swamp water 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 just after 3 a.m. local time, screamed and scrambled through the wreckage. Several rescued others, including a 3-year-old boy.

Amtrak said it was the worst train wreck in its history. Its 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 dead.

The National Transportation Safety Board began an investigation into the cause of the wreck. It was joined by the FBI, although an agency spokesman said there was no immediate indication of sabotage.

Tracks where the wreck happened are owned by CSX Transportation Inc., an Eastern railroad company. Last week the NTSB blamed poor track maintenance by CSX for an Amtrak crash that killed eight people two years ago in South Carolina. Hours after the crash, the mayor of Mobile, Ala., said he had received a report that a barge hit the trestle before the train crossed.

“We don’t have any clue as to what might have caused the accident,” said Dick Bussard, a spokesman for CSX, formerly the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. CSX operates its own trains over its tracks in 20 states east of the Mississippi River. Bussard said the company inspected the tracks visually on Sunday and that Amtrak checked them and the trestle with a laser on Sept. 9.

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 17 crew members. It left Los Angeles on Sunday, changed crews in New Orleans and headed east toward Mobile. Shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday, it approached the trestle over Canot Bayou 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 most everyone, Mike Dopheide, 26, 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. Moreover, he noticed 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. “We presume,” said Jacobsen, the Amtrak spokesman, “that those passengers drowned.” The nose of the 80-foot lead locomotive was buried in bayou silt. There were three crew members inside. A lounge car, a dining car, a sleeping car and a coach car were still 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 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 charges 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 said 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 damn dream.’ ”

He compared the water to a whirlpool in a kitchen sink.

At one point, Watts thought he was going to 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, his wife and 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.

He was in the water about 30 minutes, he said, before reaching 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.”

When the car finally came to rest, Paiz said, Russell pulled out a man who had gotten trapped under a seat. Together, Russell and Paiz opened an emergency window. It was a long drop to the water below.

Paiz said they heard noises.

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

Paiz, who cannot swim, said he greatly 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, who was on his way to Miami for open heart surgery, said he tried hard to stay calm as he finally dropped from one of the lower windows six feet 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.

By now, divers were going through submerged portions of the railroad cars hand over hand. There was little or no light underwater. William Woodail, the head of one team of divers, said some of the dead remained in the car that was completely submerged.

Others, he said, remained in the burned locomotive.

“Search conditions are very difficult because of the murky waters,” said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Dwight McGee.

The divers lifted bodies onto a barge. From there, they were taken to a lumberyard 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.

Times staff writers Richard E. Meyer in Los Angeles and David G. Savage in Washington and researcher Edith Stanley in Saraland, Ala., also contributed to this story.

* AMTRAK HOT LINE: A number has been established for those with questions about passengers aboard the Sunset Limited. It is 1-800-523-9101.


More than 40 people were killed early today when part of an Amtrak train hurtled off a 12-foot-high trestle into a bayou and caught fire, trapping sleeping passengers in black water up to 30 feet deep.

The accident, one of the worst on American rails since World War II and the deadliest in Amtrak's 23-year history, occurred about 3 A.M., when the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles was crossing Big Bayou Canot at 70 miles per hour on its way to Miami with 189 passengers and a crew of 17.

Charles W. Archer, the special agent in charge of the Mobile office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the accident occurred minutes after the trestle was struck by a line of barges being pushed up the bayou, one of a score of narrow tributaries of the Mobile River.

The accident occurred about 15 miles north of Mobile, where the train had just stopped. Trestle Is Focus

As he stood in a boat several hundred feet from the disaster scene, Mr. Archer said in an interview that the crew of the tugboat pushing the barges had reported hearing an explosion, apparently after the train derailed, but that the crew had apparently not reported any incident before the derailment.

By late tonight, crews had rescued 159 passengers and recovered 41 bodies, including those of two crew members, said Ted Lopatkiewicz, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Three crew members and three passengers were still missing. The missing crew members were believed to be in the three engines, which were mired in muck and still burning. Four of the eight coaches also plunged into the bayou.

Most survivors suffered only minor injuries seven people were admitted to hospitals.

Chief Harold Johnson of the Mobile police said the rescue and salvage operations were hampered by the lack of heavy machinery needed to raise submerged cars, by burning diesel fuel and the murkiness of the water. Coast Guard and police divers said they could see only six inches ahead.

The Chief, who arrived at the scene by helicopter shortly after the derailment, said, "It was like coming upon a ball of fire in a dense fog."

Many passengers had to be pulled from the water or climb over the muddy and grassy banks of the area, which is home to alligators, snakes and ospreys. Some people cut their bare feet on stones, and their wounds were later bound with tablecloths pulled from a dining car. The Crucial Questions

Mr. Archer said that the derailment was reported by a tugboat crew and that he believed the tug was the one that had been pushing the barges. The barges were lashed three wide and two deep, he said, and may have been too large to be legally using the narrow waterway.

Certain to be of crucial importance as the investigation unfolds is whether the tug crew ever sounded an alarm that the bridge had been struck, whether the Amtrak train could have been halted in time and whether the bridge had collapsed before the train arrived.

"What we are exploring," Mr. Archer said, "is the possibility that the barge might have hit the bridge before the passenger train came through, but it is up to the U.S. Attorney in Mobile to say whether a crime has been committed." Mr. Archer said a freight train crossed the bridge 54 minutes before the passenger train arrived.

Mr. Archer said F.B.I. metallurgists were being flown in to determine if the heavy metal barges had played a role in damaging the trestle. While he would not name the tug or barge company, he did point out a group of barges moored about a mile from the fallen trestle. One had a deep gash on its bow.

The barges, loaded with cement and coal, were owned by the Warrior and Gulf Navigation Company, as was the tugboat Mauvilla, which was among the first vessels on the scene, officials said. Nicholas Barchie, the president of Warrior and Gulf, did not respond to repeated calls for comment.

Mr. Archer said F.B.I. investigators had discounted the possibility of sabotage, noting that the site was about four miles from any road. He said the F.B.I. routinely investigated such accidents under Federal train wreck statutes, which make it a Federal crime to sabotage or damage a train in interstate commerce. Fire and Fog

Some passengers told of seemingly interminable waits for rescuers and of wandering along the track looking for help from crew members who never appeared. The chaotic scene and feeling of isolation were made all the worse by thick fog and the glow from the fires.

"We were throwing sheets and blankets out of the cars that were still on the track to the people who were wet from being in the water," said Edward Mouton, a 20-year-old passenger from Los Angeles. "Some people were hysterical. There were a lot of old people on the train.

"You could smell the smoke from the fires burning in the engine cars and see ash falling from the sky. But it was so foggy you really couldn't see the water."

Mark Bowers, a police officer in nearby Creola and volunteer member of the Mobile County Sheriff's Department Flotilla, donned diving gear and said he helped push nearly three dozen bodies from a submerged car that had plunged from the 250-foot-long wood and steel trestle.

Hours after the accident, one of the sleeping cars still hung from the 50 feet of the trestle still standing. Below, a small section of a coach peeked up from the surface of the water next to it, another coach rose vertically from the bayou.

Just ahead of those two coaches, the charred hulks of two of the train's engines lay on their sides, ground into the bayou's muddy bank. On the other side of the trestle was the third engine, which had pulled the train it, too, was on its side in the mud, charred and mangled. Most Victims Drowned

A temporary morgue was set up at the nearby marina hamlet of Port Chickasaw. Dr. G. P. Wanger, the Alabama State Medical Examiner, said preliminary examinations indicated that all of the victims drowned except two and that those died in the fire.

Mr. Archer of the F.B.I. said the information gathered so far supported the theory that the trestle might have been loosened by being hit by the barges. Agents were interviewing the tugboat crew, he said.

Transportation Secretary Federico F. Pena, who flew to the disaster scene, said the transportation safety board was investigating the possibility of a barge hitting the trestle.

Mr. Pena appeared to discount the possibility that Amtrak itself or CSX Inc., which owns the rail bed, were culpable. The safety board had already determined, he said, that "there were adequate inspections done in the past few months to insure the integrity of the bridge, the engines and the tracks."

CSX officials said the track and trestle had been inspected visually on Sunday and had an intensive annual check in February.

Mr. Archer noted, as did Secretary Pena, that at least one locomotive had "literally flown through the air."

"It actually angled out away from the track several degrees," Mr. Archer said, "and it gives you the impression that it was literally launched off of the bridge at 70 miles per hour." Working on a Tug

Among the first rescuers on the scene were the crews of the tugboats Scott Pride and Mauvilla. Helicopter medical units from the University of South Alabama Medical Center were among the first units on the scene.

"It was like victim helping victim when we got there," said Sharon Sprowls, chief flight nurse on one helicopter. "They pulled each other out of that train."

The medical units worked from the deck of a barge provided by the Scott Paper Company, which owns the tug Scott Pride. Watching the Engines Burn

"My watch stopped when I hit the water at 2:55 A.M.," said James Altosino, a 72-year-old passenger who had boarded in San Antonio. "I was asleep, and a jolt woke me up, knocked me from my seat, and by the time I awoke, water was coming into the car."

Mr. Altosino said that before getting out himself, he helped a woman to safety as she floated toward him in the upended coach. After helping her out a window, he said, he climbed out the window and swam for what remained of the trestle, where he hung on for about an hour, watching the engines burn 40 to 50 feet away.

"The only light was from the fire," Mr. Altosino said, "and it was so hot that I had to splash water on my back to cool off. The stench of the diesel fuel was terrible. We were scared of the water catching on fire."

Another passenger, Alfredo Lamedo, 59, of Miami, was in a car that did not drop into the bayou. There was little panic, he said, as he and other passengers in the car maneuvered their through jammed doors to safety.

Bill Crosson of Tallahassee, Fla., and his wife, Vivian, who were passengers in another car, said they barely escaped drowning. "The water just rose immediately up to the top, and I mean there was just room for air," he said. "Everybody just kind of floated together and went out the back of the car. There were a few times when I wondered if we were going to make it." Record for Amtrak

The Sunset Limited, which extended service from New Orleans to Miami in April, was billed as the nation's first transcontinental passenger train. It travels three times a week from Los Angeles to Miami, covering 3,066 miles across eight states and making 50 stops. The trip normally takes 68 to 72 hours.

In Washington, Amtrak officials said the death toll could equal or exceed all previous fatalities in the 23- year history of the long-distance passenger line. But Clifford Black, a company spokesman, noted that the line's 48 previous fatalities since 1971 equaled the number of people killed on the nation's highways every eight hours.

Last week Federal officials criticized CSX for inadequate track inspection relating to a 1991 derailment in which eight Amtrak passengers were killed and 65 were injured.

Asked to respond, Dick Bussard, CSX's director of communications, said, "We have the best safety record in the industry." He said that the company led the industry in 1991 with only 2.81 accidents per million train miles, and improved that mark to 2.39 in 1992 and 1.73 thus far this year.

Before today, the worst Amtrak wreck had occurred in January 1987, when a Conrail engineer drove three engines through a closed track switch and into the path of a high-speed passenger train near Chase, Md. The accident killed 16 people and injured 175. The engineer, who was found to have been smoking marijuana, received a five-year prison sentence.

Oil mars Aliceville swampland months after train derailment

ALICEVILLE | Environmental regulators promised an aggressive cleanup after a tanker train hauling 2.9 million gallons of crude oil derailed and burned in a West Alabama swamp in early November amid a string of North American oil train crashes.

ALICEVILLE | Environmental regulators promised an aggressive cleanup after a tanker train hauling 2.9 million gallons of crude oil derailed and burned in a West Alabama swamp in early November amid a string of North American oil train crashes.

So why is dark, smelly crude oil still oozing into the water four months later?

The isolated wetland smelled like a garage when a reporter from The Associated Press visited last week, and the charred skeletons of burned trees rose out of water covered with an iridescent sheen and swirling, weathered oil. A snake and a few minnows were some of the few signs of life.

An environmental group now says it has found ominous traces of oil moving downstream along an unnamed tributary toward a big creek and the Tombigbee River, less than 3 miles away. And the mayor of a North Dakota town where a similar crash occurred in December fears ongoing oil pollution problems in his community, too.

As the nation considers new means of transporting fuel over long distances, critics of crude oil trains have cited the Alabama derailment as an example of what can go wrong when tanker cars carrying millions of gallons of so-called Bakken crude leave the tracks. Questions about the effectiveness of the Alabama cleanup come as the National Transportation Safety Board considers tighter rules for the rail transportation of Bakken oil, which is produced mainly by the fracking process in the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana. Oil production is increasing there, boosting the amount of oil being transported across the country.

Environmentalist John Wathen, who has conducted tests and monitored the Alabama site for months for Waterkeeper Alliance, said Genesee & Wyoming railroad and regulators did the bare minimum to spruce up an isolated, rural site and left once the tracks were repaired so trains could run again.

“I believe they really thought that because it's out of sight, out of mind, out in the middle of a swamp, that nobody was going to pay attention,” Wathen said.

Regulators and the company deny any such thing occurred, however.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which oversaw the cleanup, say more than 10,700 gallons of oil were skimmed from the water after the derailment, and workers collected about 203,000 gallons of oil from damaged rail cars using pumps. Another 290 cubic yards of oily dirt was excavated with heavy equipment, or enough to cover a basketball court with soil nearly 2 feet deep.

Yet four months later, officials still say no one knows exactly how much oil was spilled. That's mainly because an unknown amount of oil burned in a series of explosions and a huge fire that lasted for hours after the crash. Since no one knows how much oil burned, officials also can't say how much oil may be in the swamp.

About a month after the crash, the head of Alabama's environmental agency, Lance LeFleur, promised “aggressive recovery operations” in a written assessment for a state oversight commission. He said the oil had been contained in a “timely” manner and none had left the wetlands.

Michael Williams, a spokesman for the Connecticut-based Genesee & Wyoming, which owns the short-line Alabama & Gulf Coast Railway line where the crash occurred, said the company is still monitoring the site closely and maintaining a system of barriers meant to keep oil from spreading. The work is continuous, he said.

But regulators and the railroad confirm one of Wathen's worst fears: that environmental agencies let the railroad repair the badly damaged rail bed and lay new tracks before all the spilled oil was removed. Wathen calls the move a mistake that's behind the continuing seepage of oil into the water.

“I do agree that they needed to get the rail cars out. But there were other ways to do it,” Wathen said. “Those would have been more expensive.”

James Pinkney, an EPA spokesman in Atlanta, said the rail line had to be fixed quickly to remove oil and damaged rail cars that still contained crude from the wetland.

Agencies are now working with the company and its contractors to recover the remaining oil trapped in the rail bed, but it's unclear when or how that might happen.

“The EPA and ADEM are continuing to work together to ensure all recoverable oil is removed from the site,” Pinkney said in a written response to questions.

Ed Overton, an environmental sciences professor at Louisiana State University, said spilled crude can linger at a site indefinitely if it's buried in the ground. Depending on the amount of oil that remains, he said, containment devices may be needed in the swamp for at least a couple of years.

But Bakken crude evaporates quickly once exposed to air because of its composition, said Overton, so the fact that oil remains in the swamp isn't “the end of the world.”

“It's going to look bad for a while,” he said. “It's amazing how quickly Mother Nature can handle such things, but it will take time.”

The cause of the derailment — which happened at a wooden trestle that was destroyed by the flames and has since been replaced by buried culverts that let water flow underneath the tracks — remains under investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration.

The crash site appears in better shape now than right after the derailment, partly because burned tanker cars misshapen by explosions are gone. Much of the water surrounding the site appears clear, and the odor from the site isn't bad enough to reach the home of Leila Hudgins, just a few hundred yards away.

“I haven't smelled anything,” Hudgins said. “They did a good job. They hauled off truckload after truckload.”

The crash site, located off an old dirt road and a new one that was built during the response, is accessible both by car and foot, but Hudgins said she hasn't looked closely at the spot where it happened.

The railroad said testing hasn't detected any groundwater contamination, and EPA said air monitoring ended about a month after the crash when it became apparent there were no airborne health hazards.

Still, questions linger. Wathen said he has been taking water samples several hundred yards downstream from the crash site and has detected the chemical fingerprint of so-called Bakken crude, which the train was carrying when it derailed.

“There's no question it is outside their containment area, and I think it's even farther away,” said Wathen. “This is an environmental disaster that could go on for years.”

The Alabama train was on a southbound run when it derailed less than 3 miles south of Aliceville, a town of about 2,400 people near the Mississippi line. Another oil train derailed and burned in December at Casselton, N.D., and 47 people died in July when a train carrying Bakken oil exploded and burned in Quebec.

The mayor of Casselton, Ed McConnell, said he has been keeping up with the Alabama cleanup because spilled oil also was buried under the rebuilt railroad tracks near his town of 2,400 people. He worries that oil will reappear on the ground at Casselton as the spring thaw begins in coming weeks.

“It's still in the ground here, too,” McConnell said. “They've hauled a lot of dirt and stuff out. But they covered up the (oily) dirt before getting it all up and rebuilt the track to get it going.”

Alabama's environmental agency said it still regularly visits the wreck site, which is encircled with the same sort of absorbent fencing, oil-snaring pom-poms and plastic barriers that were used on the Gulf Coast after the BP well blowout in 2010.

Once the “emergency” phase ends, the state environmental agency will install wells to monitor groundwater, said spokesman Jerome Hand.

Government regulators will approve any plans for removing remaining oil from the site, he said.


Up to 80% of the Canadian fleet and 69% of U.S. rail tank cars were DOT-111 type, as of 2013. [6]

DOT-111 cars are equipped with AAR Type E top and bottom shelf Janney couplers designed to maintain vertical alignment to prevent couplers from overriding and puncturing the tank end frames in the event of an accident. These tank cars transport various types of liquid dangerous goods, including 40,000 cars in dedicated service carrying 219,000 car loads of ethanol fuel annually in the U.S. [2]

Hydraulic fracturing of new wells in the shale oil fields in the interior of North America has rapidly increased use of DOT-111 cars to transport crude oil to existing refineries along the coasts. [7] The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway runaway train in the Lac-Mégantic derailment of July 2013 was made up of 72 of these cars, [8] [9] 63 of which derailed. Almost all of these derailed tank cars were damaged, and many had large breaches. About six million litres of light crude oil originating from the Bakken formation was quickly released and caught fire. The ensuing blaze and explosions left 47 people dead.

A November 2013 derailment near Aliceville, in Pickens County, Alabama involved a similar explosion of North Dakota crude oil. [10] The Genesee & Wyoming company was the carrier for this 90-car train, of which 20 derailed and exploded. The train originated in Amory, Mississippi and was scheduled for a pipeline terminal in Walnut Hill, Florida that is owned by Genesis Energy. The final destination for the shipment was to have been the Shell Oil refinery in Mobile, Alabama. The accident happened in a depopulated wetlands area. [11] [12] Three cars experienced a boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion. [13]

On 30 December 2013, a similar explosion occurred in Casselton, North Dakota causing the town to be evacuated. The BNSF train was 106 cars and 1.6 km long, of which at least 10 car were destroyed. Reports were that another train carrying grain and running to the opposite direction derailed first, causing the adjacent train with tank cars carrying oil from the Bakken formation to derail one minute later. [12] [14] Three days later, the US DOT PHMSA [15] wrote that "Recent derailments and resulting fires indicate that the type of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil. Based on preliminary inspections conducted after recent rail derailments in North Dakota, Alabama and Lac-Megantic, Quebec, involving Bakken crude oil [we mandate crude producers and shippers to] sufficiently degasify hazardous materials prior to and during transportation." [16] [17]

The oil regulator for North Dakota stated in early December 2013 that he expected as much as 90 per cent of that state's oil would be carried by train in 2014, up from the current 60 per cent. [14] The number of crude oil carloads hauled by U.S. railroads surged from 10,840 in 2009 to a projected 400,000 in 2013. [14] In the third quarter of 2013, crude-by-rail shipments rose 44 percent from the previous year to 93,312 carloads, equivalent to about 740,000 barrels per day or almost one tenth of U.S. production. [13] That was down 14 percent from the second quarter of 2013 due to narrower oil spreads that made costlier rail shipments less economic. [13]

On 7 January 2014, 17 cars of a 122-car train derailed and exploded near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick. Nobody was injured but about 150 people were evacuated. [18] The petroleum products originated in Western Canada and were destined for the Irving Oil Refinery in St. John. [19]

The DOT-111 tank cars are constructed with a draft sill design. Draft sills incorporate the draft gear behind each coupler that is designed to transfer longitudinal draft (tension) and buff (compression) forces throughout the length of a train. The draft sills are attached to steel pads that are attached to the tank. If the cars do not incorporate a continuous center sill extending the entire length of the car, the two draft sills at each end are referred to as stub sills, and the tank carries draft forces between couplers. In this case, reinforcing bars may be extended underneath the tank between the draft sills. Body bolsters and their associated body bolster pads centered above the railcar trucks support the tank and protect it against lateral forces. The draft sill center plate serves as the attachment point between the tank car body and the truck assembly. (See schematic cutaway at right.) [20]

The body bolster pads and front sill pads are attached to the tank with fillet welds. At the rear edge of the front sill pad, a butt weld attaches the front sill pad to the body bolster pad and to the fillet weld attaching the body bolster pad to the tank shell. Fillet welds at the interior and exterior sides of the head brace attach the head brace to the front sill pad, and an exterior fillet weld attaches the head brace to the draft sill. To the rear of the head brace, the draft sill is welded to the front sill pad, body bolster pad, and reinforcing bars. [20]

Because rail cars have no front or rear, for descriptive purposes, the ends of the cars are designated "A" and "B." The B end of the car is the end equipped with the wheel or lever used to manually set the car's hand brakes. The end without the hand brake is the A end. As trains are assembled, either end of a tank car may be placed in the front or rear position. The tank shells are constructed of several rings welded together, with six rings in a typical configuration. By convention, ring-1 is at the A end, and if there are six rings, ring-6 is at the B end. [20] The tank rings can be welded in a "straight barrel" configuration, or with a "slope bottom" sloping down to a bottom outlet valve at the center of the tank. [21]

A 2013 Senate of Canada committee report proposed mandatory minimum insurance for rail companies and recommended the creation of an online database with information on spills and other incidents from rail cars. [22] Currently the railway industry lags the pipeline industry in value of mandatory insurance coverage, to a ratio of 1:40. [22]

Railway operators are not required to inform Canadian municipalities about dangerous goods in transit. [23]

DOT-112 tank cars and DOT-114 tank cars have been required since 1979 under Regulation SOR/79-101 of the Canada Transportation Act for the transportation of gases such as propane, butane, or vinyl chloride. [24] Transportation Safety Board of Canada Railway Investigation Report R94T0029 [25] section 1.13.1 documents DOT-112 tank car and DOT-114 tank car standards: the DOT-111 tank "cars are not considered to provide the same degree of derailment protection against loss of product as the classification 112 and 114 cars, designed to carry flammable gases."

A report on "The State of Rail Safety in Canada" was commissioned by Transport Canada in 2007. [26] The report contains a 10-year statistical examination of its subject. Section 6 is entitled "Accidents involving dangerous goods". A formal review of the Railway Safety Act was empanelled by the Minister in February 2007. [27] The review, which was tabled in Parliament later that year, has a different take on the subject.

Completed Edit

During a number of accident investigations over a period of years, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has noted that DOT-111 tank cars have a high incidence of tank failures during accidents. [2] Previous NTSB investigations that identified the poor performance of DOT-111 tank cars in collisions include a May 1991 safety study as well as NTSB investigations of a June 30, 1992, derailment in Superior, Wisconsin [28] a February 9, 2003, derailment in Tamaroa, Illinois [29] and an October 20, 2006, derailment of an ethanol unit train in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. [30] In addition, on February 6, 2011, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) investigated the derailment of a unit train of DOT-111 tank cars loaded with ethanol in Arcadia, Ohio, which released about 786,000 US gallons (2,980,000 l 654,000 imp gal) of product. [31] The Transportation Safety Board of Canada also noted that this car's design was flawed resulting in a "high incidence of tank integrity failure" during accidents. [6]

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSBC) investigated a derailment incident near Westree, Ontario which occurred on 30 January 1994. [25] They cited report NTSB/SS-91/01 which questioned "the safety of DOT-111A tank cars and determined that this classification of tank car has a high incidence of tank integrity failure when involved in accidents and that certain hazardous materials are transported in these tank cars even though better protected cars (less liable to release the transported product when involved in accidents) are available." The TSBC instituted "Amendment Schedule No. 21 to the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations", which mandated "the use of revised tank car standard CAN/CGSB 43.147-94. This standard restricts the use of 111A tank cars, and removes over 80 dangerous goods previously authorized for transportation in Class 111 cars." The updated standard is available through the Canadian General Standards Board. [32]

Approximately 230,000 litres (61,000 US gallons 51,000 imperial gallons) of sulphuric acid was released, causing environmental damage, on 21 January 1995 near Gouin, Quebec. [33] The 11 rail cars that released product were standard series CTC-111A tank cars. The derailment was caused by gauge loss, and the number of defective ties north of the derailment area likely exceeded Canadian National's (CN) maintenance standard. Transport Canada determined that a retrofit of the top fittings of all Class 111A cars would exceed one billion dollars. [33]

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSBC) investigated an occurrence near River Glade, New Brunswick which occurred on 11 March 1996. The 1996 report concluded that "Class 111A tank cars are more susceptible to release product upon derailment and impact than pressure tank cars, and yet there are a number of toxic and volatile liquids that are still permitted to be carried in minimum standard Class 111A tank cars." The report makes no recommendation to upgrade or limit the use of Class 111A tank cars. [34]

An investigative report published 3 August 2013 by the Brandon Sun listed 10 railway derailments in the area over the past decade. Derailments caused no injuries over that period. [35]

On 2 May 2002, a train collided with a transport truck at the Firdale, Manitoba CN crossing. The derailed equipment included five tank cars carrying dangerous goods. During the derailment, four of the tank cars sustained multiple punctures and released their products. The products ignited and a large fire engulfed the derailed cars. [36] [37]

The United States National Research Council was commissioned via the US Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act (1990) by the Federal Railroad Administration to write an impartial report on "(1) the railroad tank car design process, including specifications development, design approval, repair process approval, repair accountability, and the process by which designs and repairs are presented, weighed, and evaluated, and, (2) railroad tank car design criteria, including whether head shields should be installed on all tank cars that carry hazardous materials." It is entitled "Ensuring Railroad Tank Car Safety" [38] and available as ISBN 0-309-05518-0.

Lac-Mégantic derailment Edit

As mentioned above, derailment of a train containing Bakken crude oil derailed in the town of Lac-Mégantic, leading to a fire and explosion that led to many deaths and destruction of buildings. [39] One issue raised by the Lac-Mégantic derailment, and substantiated by Enbridge complaints to the US regulator, is that Bakken crude oil is associated with a notable volatility. [40]

The US Federal Railroad Administration moved on 8 August 2013 to tighten standards for shipments of crude oil from the Bakken formation fields that contain volatile and/or corrosive chemicals, such as may issue from the hydraulic fracturing process. [41] Crude oil is classed as Class 3 Flammable Liquid. [42] The US regulator had ignored until 8 August 2013 the corrosive contents of Bakken formation crude oil.

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S, sour gas), a gas which is toxic to humans and flammable, has been detected as well in Bakken crude by Enbridge. [43] The academic community commented in 2011 that increased concentration of H2S was observed in the field and presented challenges such as "health and environmental risks, corrosion of wellbore, added expense with regard to materials handling and pipeline equipment, and additional refinement requirements". [44] Holubnyak et al. write, further, that Bakken crude "may become soured through current oil field practices". At issue in the Lac-Mégantic derailment, then, is whether World Fuel Services and other defendants ought to have been aware of this two-year-old research when they ordered the DOT-111 tank cars (which were already in 2012 acknowledged by the US NTSB regulator to be deficient for these purposes [43] ) to be loaded on the Lac-Mégantic train.

The Lac-Mégantic runaway train had earlier passed through Toronto on its way from the Bakken fields of Dakota. A Canadian National employee said that roughly 10% of shipments through Toronto contain hazardous materials that are often stored on DOT-111 tank cars, but that only first responders have access to HAZMAT shipment information. [45]

Is This Amtrak's Deadliest Crash In History?

The death toll in the Amtrak derailment has gone up. Eight people are confirmed dead in the Amtrak crash, and more than 200 are injured, with at least eight of them in critical condition. It's without a doubt one of the worst Amtrak crashes in history, but it's not the deadliest. The deadliest Amtrak crash in history happened just over 20 years ago in Alabama, and claimed nearly seven times as many lives (given that the death toll related to Tuesday's crash doesn't rise further).

At around 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, an Amtrak train carrying 238 passengers and five crew members derailed in Philadelphia on its way from Washington to New York. In the aftermath, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has described the scene as "an absolute, disastrous mess." At least seven people have been confirmed dead while more than 200 were rushed to various hospitals in the area. At least 56 passengers were still being treated on Wednesday, while officials continue to search for those unaccounted for.

No matter how you look at it, the most recent Amtrak crash is a devastating episode, and one of the company's worst accidents in recent years. But to put it in context with Amtrak's history of accidents, here's how Tuesday's derailment compares to the company's deadliest case to date.

The Crashes

At about 3 a.m. on September 22, 1993, an Amtrak train hit a dislodged track on a swing bridge over the Big Bayou Canot near Mobile, Alabama, at 70 miles per hour and derailed. The derailment caused the bridge to collapse and the lead locomotive to crash into a mud bank and explode. The locomotive crash caused a fuel spill, which sparked a massive fire, while several other cars ended up in the water.

On May 12, 2015, an Amtrak Northeast Regional train was possibly traveling at more than 100 miles per hour when it derailed at a curve in the tracks near the intersection of Frankford Avenue and Wheatsheaf in Philadelphia's Port Richmond neighborhood. The derailment caused all seven cars to tip over and completely mangled the front of the train.

Aftermath & Casualties

In 1993, a total of 47 people were killed in the crash, some by fire and smoke inhalation and others by drowning, making it the deadliest crash in Amtrak's history by far. An additional 103 people were also injured.

Tuesday's crash has killed seven confirmed people so far and injured more than 200, who were rushed to local hospitals, including Temple University Hospital, Jefferson University Hospital, and Einstein Medical Center. They suffered a range of injuries, from minor scrapes to bone fractures and head traumas.


The derailment in 1993 was caused by a towboat pushing a barge in the Big Bayou Canot near Mobile, Alabama, when it got lost in the thick fog and accidentally hit the bridge, displacing part of it along with the train track.

Investigators are still determining the exact cause of the derailment on Tuesday, but according to the train's data recorder, excessive speed might have been the main factor. Official sources claim Amtrak 188 was traveling at more than 100 mph, twice as fast as the 50 mph speed limit imposed around the curve.

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