NTSB: Glare, lack of lookout led to Illinois bridge strike
Use of spotlights with Dewey R's lowered wheelhouse reduced the pilot's visibility
The following is a marine accident brief from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB):
(WASHINGTON) — About 0123 on April 13, 2019, the towboat Dewey R, with a crew of eight, was pushing a tow at mile 312.3 on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in Summit, Ill., when the lead barge, ATC 3404, struck a protection cell on the south side of the CSX Railroad Bridge. The protection cell was displaced about 4 feet and impacted the southern concrete pier of the bridge. There were no reports of injuries, pollution, or water ingress. The cost of repairs to the barge was $162,104, and the estimated cost of repairs to the bridge protection cell and bridge pier was $813,980.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the contact of the Dewey R’s lead barge with the south-side protection cell for the CSX Railroad Bridge was the pilot’s departure from the centerline of the channel as the tow approached the bridge without a forward lookout to monitor the transit.
As he had done in the past, the pilot attempted to use the vessel’s spotlights that were mounted on the retractable wheelhouse to locate the protection cell of the CSX Railroad Bridge and use it as a visual aid to navigate through the span. The use of the spotlights with the lowered wheelhouse reduced his visibility, rather than improving it, due to the glare reflecting off the light gray decks of the barges strung out ahead. Additionally, at the time, there were several shiny surfaces reflecting light off the side of a train passing over the CSX Railroad Bridge, which adversely affected the pilot’s visibility from the wheelhouse and further distracted him.
The company’s TSMS manual included bridge transit procedures, but those procedures did not require lookouts to be posted at the head of the tow during bridge transits. Instead, it was at the discretion of the operator to post lookouts in “any situation deemed appropriate.” The pilot’s approach to the bridge became more difficult due to: 1) the decreased visibility from the lowering of the wheelhouse, which was necessary to pass beneath the low bridge span; 2) the reduced visibility caused by the reflected glare from the spotlight on which the pilot was relying to see ahead; 3) the passing train crossing the bridge with several reflections; and 4) the pilot’s concern with his next maneuver (to pass a barge moored on the far side of the bridge), resulting in him moving his tow off the channel center.
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