The Weekly Reflektion 39/2022

Using solutions that others have used before you does not necessarily mean that it will work for you. Sometimes the circumstances are not quite the same, or maybe the others were just lucky and got away with it.

Resultant derailment and diagram showing situation immediately before collision (Source: BNSF)

Do you have contingencies prepared if the activity doesn’t go to plan?

On November 13, 2021, about 2343 hrs, a freight train consisting of two locomotives and 143 freight cars full of coal collided with a barge which had been beached alongside the railway line. The locomotive and ten freight cars were derailed, six ended up in the river causing minor injuries to the locomotive drivers, US$ 1,9 million damage to the locomotives and freight cars, and minor scrapes to the barge.

Baxter Southern, a towing vessel on the Upper Mississippi River was towing four empty barges up the river when the weather deteriorated with winds gusting 40-45 mph (65-72 km/hr) making it difficult to maintain heading with the empty barges. Several options were evaluated by the captain and the pilot, but as the captain had previously seen barges beached on this stretch of the river, it was decided to run the barges aground on the bank and wait for an improvement in the weather. They had an electronic chart, but this did not show the distance between the bank and the railway line. Due to the high winds, freezing temperatures, and darkness, the captain decided against placing a crew member as a lookout on the forward barge, but planned to check the distance from the railway line when the barges were in place.

The barges were grounded, and a member of the crew was sent to check, but before he arrived at the barge, the lights of a locomotive were seen coming around a bend about 2000 feet (600 m) away. A train was approaching at about 40 mph, the speed limit at this stretch. The driver of the locomotive saw that the barge had encroached on the rails in its headlights and applied the emergency brakes, but too late. The sparks from the emergency brakes alerted the captain who attempted to reverse the barge away from the bank, but also too late.

The investigation found that the risk of encroachment onto the rails was noted on the electronic chart by an exclamation mark(!) but with the chart in night-time mode it was difficult to see and had been missed by both the captain and the pilot.

When planning your operation, do you considered fall-back options, and work up detailed contingencies so that you areprepared if things do not go as planned? The knowledge that a given solution has been used before does not automatically mean that it will work a second time, or that it was a good solution in the first place. Using what-if scenarios can be an interesting way of stimulating discussions that can be the basis of contingency planning. What-if scenarios can even turn the unexpected into something that can be prepared for.

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