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Watch A Train Full Of Cars Get Slowly Can Opener'd Under A Bridge

Screenshot: YouTube

I know that ever since the clearance was boosted on that famous 11 foot 8 inch overpass in Durham, North Carolina, many of you may have despaired that the days of enjoying big helpings of can-openery schadenfreude were over. That’s not the case! There are still plenty of low-bridge disasters to enjoy, like this painful sardine-can-opening of a whole bunch of rail cars carrying road-going cars inside, which happened in Memphis last Sunday.

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It’s also a good reminder of how long it takes a train to stop. Here, watch the pain:

It’s strangely satisfying to watch how that corrugated roofing just accordions up under the bridge, ripping pretty cleanly off the auto-carriers below.

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The accident is interesting, and pretty telling about some of the realities and difficulties of modern rail transport. You’d think that all of these conditions — height of the train cars, clearance height of the bridge — would be known prior to sending the train onto a route that would end up doing damage like this. There are precautions like these in place, advanced train dispatching systems that have interfaces like this:

At some point, though, there must have been bad data about either the height of the train or the clearance of the bridge. Or there was some other failure of the system, since trains don’t tend to grow taller, and bridges (generally) don’t sink lower.

The end result of this mess is that this train, with cars marked both Norfolk Southern and Canadian Pacific Railway, sustained more than $2 million worth of damage, most probably not in the cheap corrugated metal train car roofs but rather to the cars inside the train:

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Screenshot: YouTube
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Looks like some new Ford Explorers in there, some Lincoln Nautiluses — this must be a Ford transport train.

Well, was.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

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DISCUSSION

morganlottes
2nd gear just exploded

I actually know some things about this type of thing.

Rail cars are all designed to fit into certain “clearance plates”, which are standardized cross section boxes they have to fit into at all times. Most cars are Clearance Plate B or C, however auto racks are usually “Exceeds Plate F”, since they are really tall but thinner compared to coal cars or grain hoppers. Every railroad section has its plate clearance widely known, since that’s how big to make a tunnel or how low a bridge can be, etc. Its all very much baked into the network systems.

What most likely happened here, is that whoever was routing the train didnt realize there were autoracks in the consist, or the locomotive engineer took the wrong switch and didnt realize they were going down the wrong rail.

And for those asking why they didnt just stop, these cars could be damn near a mile away from the locomotive engineer. They would have no way of feeling or noticing this was happening. To them it probably just felt like they had some extra drag, or they weren’t getting enough traction, or the pusher locomotives at the back might not be able to power as much. Some corrugated steel getting peeled off is nothing compared to the weight of the rest of the train.