High-water barge strike knocks Tombigbee bridge out of alignment

Professional Mariner|June/July 2020

High-water barge strike knocks Tombigbee bridge out of alignment
Rivers Wilson was pushing six barges up the rushing Tombigbee River when its port-side aft barge hit the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge near Jackson, Ala. The tow spun to port after impact and became pinned against a support pillar.
Casey Conley

The collision, at about 0100 on March 10, 2019, pushed the bridge at mile marker 88.2 out of alignment. Railroad officials closed the span to train traffic for more than a day. Permanent repairs cost more than $4.8 million. One crewmember fell and suffered a minor injury in the minutes after the bridge strike.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators acknowledged the Tombigbee was in flood stage, and they also recognized that the bridge opening — located along a bend — is poorly aligned with the river current. That said, the agency cited the pilot’s decision to continue the voyage through the bridge, given his unfamiliarity with Rivers Wilson, as a leading factor in the allision.

“(The pilot’s) incomplete understanding of the current, in combination with the misalignment of the bridge with the thalweg and Rivers Wilson’s lower horsepower (than his usual) vessel ... resulted in his belief that the tow had enough speed to overcome the effect of the current,” the NTSB said in its accident report.

After the bridge strike, investigators identified numerous deficiencies with the 2,800-hp towboat built in 1958, including watertight and structural integrity issues. The vessel did not have a certificate of inspection or meet Subchapter M standards.

The Coast Guard detained Rivers Wilson for some time afterward, and the NTSB said it had not returned to service by spring 2020 when it published the accident report.

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June/July 2020