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A tall autorack car does not fit under a short bridge

Oak Park (Illinios), 25 October 1999

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The autorack cars of this train would seem to be taller than a bridge they attempted to pass under. The results (discussed below) are certainly dramatic, but they are hardly pretty.

The autorack cars are 19' tall (excess height cars), however the Belt Railway of Chicago overhead bridge (46th Avenue) just east of Cicero Avenue has a clearance of 17' 3".

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CSX Transportation 225021 Rib-sided two-bay covered coal hopper car appears unharmed by the oops that damaged the roof of the preceeding car [to the left].

(CSXT 225021, Autorack oops, CSXT, Covered hopper cars, Freight cars, index, photographed on 25 October 1999 at CSX Altenheim Sub).     Image size is available.

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Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe 700136 Autorack car showing damage to its load and missing roof.

(ATSF 700136, Autorack oops, ATSF, Autorack cars, Freight cars, index, photographed on 25 October 1999 at CSX Altenheim Sub).     Image size is available.

99a25557.jpg

Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe 700136 Autorack car showing damage to its load and missing roof.

(ATSF 700136, Autorack oops, ATSF, Autorack cars, Freight cars, index, photographed on 25 October 1999 at CSX Altenheim Sub).     Image size is available.

99a25558.jpg

Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe 700136 Autorack car showing damage to its load and missing roof.

(ATSF 700136, Autorack oops, ATSF, Autorack cars, Freight cars, index, photographed on 25 October 1999 at CSX Altenheim Sub).     Image size is available.

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Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe 700136 Autorack car showing damage to its load and missing roof.

(ATSF 700136, Autorack oops, ATSF, Autorack cars, Freight cars, index, photographed on 25 October 1999 at CSX Altenheim Sub).     Image size is available.

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CSX Transportation 485725 Open gondola car appears unharmed by the oops that damaged the roof of preceeding cars [to the left]. It has, however, acquired additional scrap metal, previously engaged as the roof of an autorack.

(CSXT 485725, Autorack oops, CSXT, Open gondola cars, Freight cars, index, photographed on 25 October 1999 at CSX Altenheim Sub).     Image size is available.

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CSX Transportation 485725 Open gondola car appears unharmed by the oops that damaged the roof of preceeding cars [to the left]. It has, however, acquired additional scrap metal, previously engaged as the roof of an autorack. The following two autorack cars (TTGX 990770 and TTGX 994924) show damage, while following standard-height cars do not.

(CSXT 485725, TTGX 990770, TTGX 994924, CSXT 150086, Autorack oops, CSXT, Open gondola cars, Freight cars, TTGX, Autorack cars, Box cars, index, photographed on 25 October 1999 at CSX Altenheim Sub).     Image size is available.

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CSX Transportation 225021 Rib-sided two-bay covered coal hopper car appears unharmed by the oops that damaged the roof of the preceeding car [to the left].

(CSXT 225021, Autorack oops, CSXT, Covered hopper cars, Freight cars, index, photographed on 25 October 1999 at CSX Altenheim Sub).     Image size is available.

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Excess height autorack car TTGX 990770 shows damage. CSXT 485725 [left] appears unharmed by the oops that damaged the roof of preceeding cars. It has, however, acquired additional scrap metal, previously engaged as the roof of an autorack.

(TTGX 990770, CSXT 485725, Autorack oops, TTGX, Autorack cars, Freight cars, CSXT, Open gondola cars, index, photographed on 25 October 1999 at CSX Altenheim Sub).     Image size is available.

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CSX Transportation 485725 Open gondola car appears unharmed by the oops that damaged the roof of preceeding cars [to the left]. It has, however, acquired additional scrap metal, previously engaged as the roof of an autorack. Excess height autorack car TTGX 990770 is quite a different matter, however.

(CSXT 485725, TTGX 990770, Autorack oops, CSXT, Open gondola cars, Freight cars, TTGX, Autorack cars, index, photographed on 25 October 1999 at CSX Altenheim Sub).     Image size is available.

On the CSX line through Oak Park on Monday (25 October 19999) a long freight train was stopped and tied down, with quite a few autorack cars. Or, shall we say, with most of quite a few autorack cars.

Some had their tops missing, others pried back, suggesting a giant had been busy with a large straight-blade can-opener. Others were crushed on top, as you might imagine had they been a model made of aluminium foil, and played with less then gently.

A bystander suggested a total of thirty-five cars were damaged... I didn't count them, but that seems about right. A few were obscured by trees, but all I could see seemed to have some damage, and quite a few had quite a bit.

At this point the tracks run parallel to the Ike (Eisenhower) Expressway. As I drove over (having been alerted by a brother who happened upon it), there was no mention on the radio news, except that inbound traffic was slow between Mannheim and Austin... the two-to-three lanes of rubber-neckers I saw upon my arrival might well explain the delays (and hardly coincidental clearing-up at Austin Avenue).

Despite taking many photos, I still had difficulty taking any that would illustrate the full extent of the incident. The train was heading westbound, with the locomotives stopping beside the CTA end-of-line terminal, the first damaged car by Circle Street (a couple blocks west of Harlem Avenue) and the last cars just west of Austin Avenue, near the end of the train.

Among the more dramatic is the first group of three autorack cars, which had their tops completely ripped off, and the damage to the vehicles is quite evident. It appears that one Ford F-250 pickup truck came entirely off the train, and damaged the following tank car in the process. Oh, yes, that tank car has a HAZMAT placard (code 1760, UN 8), the only placarded car I saw on the train.

Later in the train, in groupings of adjacent autostack cars, each showed considerable damage. Some roofs were ripped off completely, revealing the smashed and scraped contents. Other roofs were smashed down. All showed distortion of both ends of the car, suggesting much more damage to the contents of the autorack cars.

Media coverage was scant. Two days later the Chicago Tribune offered only the following brief account.

"Metropolitan briefing, Oak Park, Railroad says vehicles didn't belong on train.

"Autoracks carrying three decks of new Ford sport-utility vehicles were not supposed to be on a CSX Railroad train that hit a viaduct early Monday morning near Oak Park Avenue, along the Eisenhower Expressway, according to a spokesman for the rail company.

"'We're still investigating why this happened, but there appears to have been some confusion about the route. . . . These cars were put on a train they don't normally ride,' CSX spokesman Gary Wollenhaupt said.

"Wollenhaupt said the train tried to pull 39 autoracks, which stack cars higher than 20 feet, through a viaduct with a clearance of about 17 feet. At least 77 vehicles were knocked off the racks or otherwise damaged. Wollenhaupt said CSX is planning to reimburse Ford for the vehicles.

"Several dozen train cars scraped through the viaduct before the train stopped. While Wollenhaupt said it would be difficult for the engineer to hear that there was a problem, he probably would have felt a tug.'

"CSX in investigating whether the engineer and conductor, running the train, should be disciplined, Wollenhaupt said, adding that no official action has been taken."   -- Chicago Tribune, Wednesday, 27 October 1999, Section 2, page 3, column 1.

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Chicago Rail Photographs collection updated 21 April 2019 at 14:24. Photographs and text copyright © 1998-2000 Harold A. Driscoll, All Rights Reserved. Email address is provided exclusively for personal contact, but emphatically not for use for SPAM net.abuse.