Big Bayou Canot Train Wreck

On September 22, 1993, about 2:45 a.m., barges that were being pushed by the towboat MAUVILLA in dense fog struck and displaced the Big Bayou Canot railroad bridge near Mobile, Alabama.

About 2:53 a.m., National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) train 2, the Sunset Limited, en route from Los Angeles, California to Miami, Florida, with 220 persons on board, struck the displaced bridge and derailed. The three locomotive units, the baggage and dormitory cars, and two of the six passenger cars fell into the water. The fuel tanks on the locomotive units ruptured, and the locomotive units and the baggage and dormitory cars caught fire. Forty-two passengers and 5 crewmembers were killed; 103 passengers were injured. The towboat's four crewmembers were not injured.

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

At 2:53 a.m. on September 22, 1993, the Sunset Limited (#2), Amtrak's only transcontinental passenger train, plunged into Big Bayou Canot fourteen miles north of Mobile, Alabama, killing 42 passengers and 5 crew members (three in the locomotive and two dining car workers in the dorm car). Eight minutes earlier at 2:45 a.m., a towboat, pushing six barges and lost in a dense fog, unknowingly bumped into Big Bayou Canot Bridge, knocking the track out of alignment, causing the train to derail and plunge into the mucky waters of the bayou. Locomotive P40 #819 was about 3 weeks old when it was destroyed in the accident. The three locomotive, baggage car, trans/dorm, and first two coaches ended up in the swampy waters while the third coach (34040) was left hanging off the end of the bridge.

This wreck occurred after a CSX Transportation 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, Amtrak's Sunset Limited train, powered by three locomotives (one GE Genesis P40DC number 819 and two EMD F40PHs, numbers 262 and 312) en route from Los Angeles, California to Orlando, Florida with 220 passengers and crew aboard, crossed the bridge at high speed and derailed at the kink. The locomotives slammed into the bridge superstructure, causing its destruction. The lead locomotive embedded itself nose-first into the canal bank 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, resulting in a massive fuel spill and a fire. Forty-seven people, 42 of whom were passengers, were killed, many by drowning, others by fire/smoke inhalation. Another 103 were injured. The towboat's four crewmembers were not injured.