Main.AltoonaWreck History

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The National Transportation Safety Board did a very thorough investigation of the incident. A PDF of their report can be found here.

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Looking back, we think of the wreck as the photos of the locomotives ripped apart, the overheated tank cars, and the way it all fits into the history of the IAIS. However, let us never forget the true cost of that Saturday in the impersonal photos and facts. I'd like to dedicate this to the memory of Larry Buckingham, Jr., and Bill Peers, the crew who lost their lives working Extra 470 West that day.

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Looking back, we think of the wreck as the photos of the locomotives ripped apart, the overheated tank cars, and the way it all fits into the history of the IAIS. However, let us never forget the true cost of that Saturday in the impersonal photos and facts. I'd like to dedicate this to the memory of Larry Buckingham, Jr., and Bill Peers, the crew who lost their lives working Extra 470 West that day.

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(:menulocation History:Wrecks / Derailments:Altoona Wreck:)

The Altoona Wreck

One of the darkest days on Iowa Interstate came on Saturday, 30-Jun-1988, when two trains met head-on in the middle of a field outside Altoona, IA. On that day, the regular eastbound train (now CBBI, that day called Extra 406 East) had left Des Moines, with units 406, 401, 471, and 309, followed by 68 mostly-loaded cars. Extra 470 West, a local job that was roughly equavlent to today's Des Moines Switcher, was at Newton headed for Des Moines with only the 470, running long-hood first, one empty grain hopper, 2 alcohol loads and 4 alcohol empties. Both trains had train order #213, indicated that "Extra 406 East has right over Extra 470 West MP 353.2 to Newton and wait at Altoona until 1201h for Extra 470 West." That order make X406E superior over X470W, but made X406E hold at Altoona until it either met X470W or 1201h had passed. Per the rules, that also meant that X470W had to be in the siding (either at Altoona by using the Pella Branch?, or at Colfax or Newton) somewhere by five minutes prior to the 1201h deadline.

X470W was running on schedule such that they would have made it safely in the siding at Altoona by 1156h, as the rules required. X406E had stopped west of Altoona on the main at 1130h and dropped a carload of lumber in town for the Pella Branch?. After reassembling their train, they should have waited for the arrival of X470W. However, at 1140h, the crew of X406E left Altoona eastbound. Five minutes later, 406 and 470 collided in a cut near MP 346.1. Both crewmen of X406E survived, one by jumping and one by staying aboard, but the men of the X470W were not so lucky. One jumped from the locomotive, only to be killed by the derailing cars, while the other stayed aboard and was struck by the empty grain hopper tearing through the locomotive cab.

To make matters worse, a fire started in one of the damaged locomotives and spread to the leaking fuel from the damaged fuel tanks. This fire began heating the tankers full of alcohol, and while there were no initial ruptures in the cars, it did create intense pressures that set off at least one of the pressure relief valves, sending forth a stream of flaming alcohol. However, for several days everybody within about two miles was evacuated due to the danger of explosion, including fellow webmaster Michael Petersen.

Michael obtained the photos of the wreck below early in the creation of this site, and now I'm not sure who to credit them to. For completeness on the locomotive histories after the wreck: 470 was completely destroyed, and was scrapped on site. 406 had extensive fire damage and a broken frame, and it was cut up at Council Bluffs. 401 suffered a bent frame, and was straightened and painted at Chrome in Silvis, IL. 309 took some long hood damage, and was repaired with parts from the 304. 471 came out the best, with only a slightly bent frame that was never corrected.

Looking back, we think of the wreck as the photos of the locomotives ripped apart, the overheated tank cars, and the way it all fits into the history of the IAIS. However, let us never forget the true cost of that Saturday in the impersonal photos and facts. I'd like to dedicate this to the memory of Larry Buckingham, Jr., and Bill Peers, the crew who lost their lives working Extra 470 West that day.

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  Last modified on December 04, 2010, at 04:24 PM
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