Trailer Talk

Heavy Hauls Follow Tragic Train Wreck Near Tacoma

Blog news and commentary by Tom Berg, Senior Contributing Editor

December 28, 2017

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Working overnight, crews used tall cranes to loaad wreckage from the scene of the Amtrak Train 501 wreck sough of Tacoma. Screen capture from AP video
Working overnight, crews used tall cranes to loaad wreckage from the scene of the Amtrak Train 501 wreck sough of Tacoma. Screen capture from AP video

The wreck of that Amtrak train on Dec. 19 made national news because of the fatalities and injuries, plus the fact that Train 501 was the inaugural run of a so-called high-speed operation on a newly built bypass south of Tacoma, Washington. Ironically, the three passengers killed were train fans who were aboard for the novelty of the run, which used recently built lightweight equipment bought by state transportation authorities.

When I saw the story on network TV newscasts, I figured the cause was excessive speed, and subsequent reports seem to indicate that is the case. The train was going 79 mph when it entered a 30-mph curve that carried the tracks over Interstate 5. The engineer apparently lost “situational awareness” – the sensation where you’re doing something but momentarily forget what it is or where you are. The guy entered the curve and didn’t think to apply the brakes. It’s happened before and can happen again, experts say.

Some of the cars were scattered along the right-of-way, and some were suspended in air when the train slid to a stop. At least one landed upside down on the southbound lanes of I-5. Some equipment hit a container-hauling semi and a few smaller vehicles. 

Siemens diesel-electric locomotive was lifted from southbound lanes of I-5 and placed aboard a huge double-drop transporter. Rescuers spray paainted code letters after they searched the cab. Screen capture from YouTube.com, Puget Sound Rail Productions.
Siemens diesel-electric locomotive was lifted from southbound lanes of I-5 and placed aboard a huge double-drop transporter. Rescuers spray paainted code letters after they searched the cab. Screen capture from YouTube.com, Puget Sound Rail Productions.

The streamlined diesel-electric locomotive also plowed onto the highway. The engine is a Siemens SC-44 "Charger," one of a group built in Sacramento, California, over the last year and a half for transit agencies around the country. It uses a 4,400-hp Cummins QSK95 V-16 driving through an AC alternator and motors.  

The locomotive weighed about 270,000 pounds and, after accident investigators did their initial work, it had to be removed from the roadway. Authorities hired Oxbo Inc. a heavy-haul specialist based in Scappoose, Oregon. High-capacity cranes loaded it onto a double-drop trailer and a crew carried the engine to Joint Base Lewis McChord, an Army and Air Force installation about 10 miles from the wreck scene, which took three to four hours. This video caught on iPhone by Puget Sound Rail Productions, shows some of the move.

The trailer is a “dual-lane transporter," said Keith Settle, Oxbo’s CEO. Set up for this operation, it had what appear to be 12 axles. “But because it’s two lanes wide, there are actually 24 axle-lines, each with eight wheels, so there are 96 tires on the ground.”

Oxbo’s engineers designed the transporter for loads like massive trnsformers, and had it built by an outside manufacturer. In this configuration, the trailer alone weighed 180,000 pounds, Settle said. With the locomotive, that went to 450,000 pounds.

Total combination weight included the two Kenworth heavy haul prime movers, one pulling and one pushing. Each of the KWs carried a 4,000-pound concrete counterweight to aid traction for their driving axles.

“We were permitted for 585,000 pounds for this load,” Settle said.

Passenger cars were loaded aboard standard flatbed, drop-deck and lowboy trailers for movement from the scene. Screen capture from YouTube.com, Puget Sound Rail Productions.
Passenger cars were loaded aboard standard flatbed, drop-deck and lowboy trailers for movement from the scene. Screen capture from YouTube.com, Puget Sound Rail Productions.

Other contractors carried away the damaged passenger cars, using flatbed, drop-deck and lowboy trailers. Because of their lightweight (for railroad equipment) design, those were standard legal loads, Settle explained.

The train wreck has already been pushed from network news shows and the front pages of newspapers. We’ll occasionally hear more as investigators continue their probe and announce their findings. But we can be glad that heavy haul specialists like Oxbo are around to help quickly pick up and carry away the pieces.

Lead prime mover was a Kenworth C500. A T800 pushed at the back of the load. Screen capturefrom YouTube.com, Puget Sound Rail Productions.
Lead prime mover was a Kenworth C500. A T800 pushed at the back of the load. Screen capturefrom YouTube.com, Puget Sound Rail Productions.

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Author Bio

Tom Berg

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Senior Contributing Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

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