Railway accident at Big Bayou Canot

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The scene of the accident the day after

The railway accident at Big Bayou Canot on September 22, 1993 near Mobile (Alabama) was the worst railway accident in the history of the US passenger transport company Amtrak . 42 passengers , two train attendants and the three train drivers died.

Starting position

The train

The Sunset Limited Express left New Orleans station with about 200 passengers due to a repair with over 30 minutes delay. The train consisted of three diesel locomotives , a baggage car and seven passenger cars . On its way, the train had to cross the Bayou Canot Bridge , which crosses the arm of the Mobile River of the same name .

The ship

A six-part push- pull unit , the Mauvilla , was traveling on the Mobile River laden with coal and pig iron. On the night of the accident, there was thick fog over the river and visibility was only about 15 meters. The ship had a radar device, but had neither a compass nor maps on board. Nevertheless, the captain left the controls to an inexperienced , radar-ignorant skipper .

The bridge

The 80-year-old Bayou Canot Bridge was originally built as a swing bridge . It consisted of three sections: The southern section was a 55 m long truss bridge on concrete pillars. The middle part consisted of steel beams. Originally it was rotatably mounted on a central steel-concrete pillar and was 46 m long. The northern section consisted of a 64 m long wooden plank bridge. The bridge was no longer used as a swing bridge. However, it was neglected to fix its moving part in such a way that it could no longer be moved. On the other hand, a continuous track had been laid across the bridge.

the accident

The skipper got lost: he mistakenly turned left onto the Big Bayou Canot , a branch of the river that is closed to shipping. He thought it was a left bend in the river, but it is a few miles to the north. Due to his limited experience, the latter interpreted the unlit Bayou Canot bridge that appeared in front of him as another push convoy and tried to moor to it. Since the skipper misjudged the speed, he rammed the bridge lightly with the tip of the push convoy. Believing he had run aground on the bank, he stopped his ship.

In fact, however, he had shifted the rotating part of the bridge a little and also loosened the connections between steel girders and concrete pillars, some of which were heavily corroded. The middle part of the bridge shifted about 97 cm. This bent the continuous track on the bridge, but did not break it.

At that moment, the Sunset Limited crossed the last signal in front of the bridge, about two minutes before the bridge , which showed "Clear the way", as did the distant signal before . This also secured the section in which the bridge was located. An existing sensor did not become active because it only responded to broken rails . In this case he would have set the signal to "Stop". The shifting of the track was enough to derail the train at the current speed : The train entered the bridge shortly before 3:00 a.m. at around 115 km / h. The three locomotives, the following baggage car, a sleeping car and two other passenger cars derailed . When they fell into the marshy river, they tore the middle part of the bridge with them. The last passenger cars stopped on the remainder of the bridge. The leaked diesel fuel from the locomotives caught fire and spread on the water.


47 people died, 103 travelers were injured, some seriously. The ship's crew managed to save 17 people from the water.

Immediately after the accident, which was reported by the Mauvilla itself, the FBI began an investigation in conjunction with the waterway police .

As a consequence of the accident, all ships must have radar devices, compass and waterway maps on board, all skippers must be radar-aware, and all bridges over the river have warning lights.

The skipper was acquitted on all charges, but never navigated a ship again.

Media response

The accident is described in great detail in the episode Strokes of Fate (84) from the Medical Detectives series . In addition, the sixth episode of the first season of the documentary series deals with the accident seconds before the accident.

Theologian RC Sproul and his wife are among the survivors of the accident. He has published a corresponding report.

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Train Wreck. In: Ligonier Ministries. October 25, 2010, accessed April 14, 2016 .

Coordinates: 30 ° 49 ′ 2 "  N , 87 ° 59 ′ 36"  W.