NTSB Reports On 2019 Krotz Springs Allision

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a Marine Accident Brief (MAB) April 14 detailing an April 24, 2019, allision between Terral River Service’s mv. Edna T. Gattle and the Union Pacific railway bridge on the Atchafalaya River near Krotz Springs, La.

The incident occurred shortly before midnight as the Edna T. Gattle was pushing a single barge downriver on the Atchafalaya. The bridge is located at Mile 41.5 on the river. According to the NTSB, both the vessel and barge made contact with the bridge and piers, resulting in more than $26,000 in damage to the barge and about $500,000 in damage to the bridge. The bridge was out of service for three days.

Around 6:40 p.m. on April 24, the Edna T. Gattle, with a captain, relief captain and four deckhands on board, departed Terral’s facility in Lessworth, La., and picked up a spud barge, the Terral 2, a little later. The spud barge, which had an excavator on deck, had an air draft of 45 feet, which necessitated the opening of the railway bridge. According to the NTSB, the captain first radioed the bridge tender just after 11 p.m. that night to request the bridge be opened, but the reception was poor. He called again about a mile later, or about 3.3 miles from the bridge, when reception improved. At that time, the tow was moving at about 15 mph.

“The bridge tender told the captain that he had to call his dispatcher for permission; the dispatcher would assess how the opening affected the train schedule,” the NTSB report said.

By about 11:30 p.m., the Edna T. Gattle reached the U.S. 190 bridge about a half mile above the railroad bridge, which had not yet opened. At that point, the captain stated he throttled back. The captain called the bridge tender again at 11:30 p.m., who had still not received permission to open the bridge. The captain estimated the current at that location was moving at between 4.5 and 5 mph. According to the NTSB, the vessel had reduced speed to 1.8 mph at 11:36 p.m. and was backing upriver at 11:39. At 11:45 p.m., the bridge was fully open, and the Edna T. Gattle began its approach, but the vessel was set to starboard and had to take a steeper than normal angle on its approach. Three minutes later, the vessel and tow contacted the bridge moving at a speed over ground of 13.7 mph. The impact forced the bridge almost back to a closed position, according to the NTSB report.

The barge incurred damage and took on water. The bridge suffered damage to its western and eastern gears. A locking mechanism was also damaged, which prevented the bridge from closing.

“Trains were diverted north to Alexandria, La.,” the report said. “Temporary bridge repairs were completed by April 27, allowing trains to pass at a reduced speed.”

According to the NTSB, this was at least the fourth impact to the bridge in the past 10 years. The Marguerite L. Terral struck it in June 2017 and the Edna T. Gattle hit it in March 2014. Before that, a crane barge pushed by the mv. Lil Al Cenac struck the bridge in February 2010, which resulted in the towboat sinking.

The NTSB noted that, for the month prior to the incident, it would take the bridge tender an average of 9 minutes to obtain permission to open the bridge and an additional 9 minutes on average to open it. Prior to the incident in question, it took 27 minutes.

In its investigation into the incident, the NTSB determined that the probable cause of the allision “was the captain allowing the tow to proceed beyond a safe decision point without confirming the status of the bridge opening, given the high river current.”

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