The Baxter Southern  after the casualty

​​The Baxter Southern after the casualty. Source: US Coast Guard​​

Collision between Baxter Southern Tow and BNSF Coal Train

What Happened

​​On November 13, 2021, about 2343 local time, the towing vessel Baxter Southern had pushed its tow of four empty barges against the shoreline of the Upper Mississippi River at mile 372 near Galland, Iowa, when a BNSF coal train transiting the track along the shoreline struck the bow rake of a forward barge that was overhanging the railroad track. Two locomotives and ten hopper cars (loaded with coal) derailed, and six of the derailed hopper cars entered the river. A sheen was observed in the river following the derailment. The two train personnel sustained minor injuries. Damages to the locomotive and freight cars were estimated at $1.9 million. The barge sustained minor scrapes.

What We Found

We determined that the probable cause of the collision between the Baxter Southern tow and BNSF coal train was the tow’s pilot and captain not correctly identifying a caution area on the electronic chart before deciding, due to the high wind’s effect on the tow’s empty barges, to push the tow up against the riverbank alongside a railroad track.

Lessons Learned

Electronic Chart S​​ystems

Electronic chart systems (ECS) provide a wealth of navigation information to mariners. Depending on user settings and other conditions, electronic chart display and information systems (ECDIS) can display the same feature(s) differently (compared to paper charts, which display the same information constantly). ECDIS enables users to obtain more information about a feature by querying through a “cursor pick.” Additionally, there are many features—including warnings and other navigation information—that can be obtained through a cursor pick that are not specifically noted in the default chart display. 

Mariners should ensure they understand all symbols and applicable advisories identified in their ECS, and owners and operators should ensure that their crews are proficient in the use of ECS. For more information about chart symbols, mariners should refer to U.S. Chart No. 1: Symbols, Abbreviations and Terms used on Paper and Electronic Navigational Charts​ or the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Inland Electronic Navigational Charts​