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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Mad Dog Chronicle # 182: Derailment of Number Six


Date: 01/04/07 15:10
Mad Dog Chronicle # 182: Derailment of Number Six
Author: mdo

MDC #182: 25th Anniversary of the wreck of Train Number Six at San Pablo, CA.

Just about twenty five years ago to the hour, I was soaked to the skin, walking around the remains of Amtrak Train Number Six and trying to figure out why it was all over the ground at San Pablo, Ca.


On January 4, 1982, I was working in my office at 1707 Wood Street in Oakland, CA. This was the headquarters for the SP’s Western Division. It was a grey, dismal, rainy day, typical of Northern California in early winter. Sometime around mid morning the rain increased in intensity. By eleven am, it was really coming down by the bucketful. It was raining so hard that I believe that I decided that I would just step over to the 16th St. Depot lunch counter and grab a ready-made sandwich for lunch.

During the noon hour both my regional maintenance engineer, Jack Hall, and my Assistant Division Superintendent, George Meyers, were in my office with me discussing the rain, which continued, unabated. Hall advised that he had track inspectors out and it was agreed that we would hold Train Number Six at the Depot at Sixteenth Street until the inspection of the Martinez Subdivision was completed. We were particularly concerned about Cordineses Creek at the Berkeley/Albany city limits where the main line frequently went under water during this type of heavy rain.

The 1:05 pm departure time for Amtrak Train Number Six came and went. If anything, it appeared to be raining even harder than before. Now I got a call from my General Manager, C T Babers. Inquiring as to why we were holding Number Six. We were obviously getting much heavier rainfall than they were in San Francisco at that time. CTB was actually quite impatient about our decision to hold up the departure to complete the track inspection. I told him that the rainfall was very heavy on the east side of San Francisco Bay. By this time it had apparently almost stopped at the General Office, only about five air miles away from my location there in Oakland.

What we did not know at the time, for we had no information source that could tell us, was that the West Contra Costa hills had received a total of in excess of seven inches of rain in the period between 11 am and 1 pm in the area drained by Wildcat and San Pablo Creeks. This caused both of these creeks to flood to the north of the Martinez Subdivision main tracks. The water was well over the creek banks and flowed into a low spot occupied by a trucking company storage yard, just to the north of the main tracks. This yard was located in an old overflow drainage area that had been partially filled when the trucking company located there. At some time in the early sixties there had actually been a trestle at this location. However, this structure had been retired and replaced with a culvert as the surrounding area developed into industries.

When the track inspector passed this location, both creeks were at the top of their banks and there was standing water in the trucking company yard. However, the water was nowhere near the ballast shoulder. Unfortunately, the runoff increased significantly as time passed. After the track inspector determined that the railroad was not under water at Cordineses Creek, the decision was made to let Train Number Six depart. The rain was definitely less intense, although still heavy.


Six made its normal stop at Richmond, at mp 12.0. (I am using the current UP mileposts) As the engineer departed from the Richmond station stop he reported observing water on both sides of the main lines up into the ballast section. As he approached San Pablo at mp 13.6 the water was up to the top of the ties. At mp 13.74 there is a 60 ft. ballast deck structure over Wildcat Creek, just to the north of Market St. San Pablo Creek is spanned by an 80 ft. thru plate girder structure at mp 14.14. This structure is located between Brookside Dr. and what is now known as Parr Blvd., but at the time was known only as Road 20. Just before you come to Brookside Dr, there was and still is a pipe that drains the trucking yard, at the location of the former trestle.

The engines and baggage cars of Number Six made it across all of this, however the fill liquefied under the weight and vibration of the engines. Each following car derailed and was dragged through the ever-widening failure of the now liquefied fill. The engines stopped just north of the road twenty crossing. Several cars were immersed in the water at the location of the former trestle. The rear of the train was just north of the bridge over Wildcat Creek.

The engineer reported the derailment to Sixteenth St. Tower and the Cal P dispatcher, I had been monitoring the road radio channel in my office and was out the door in under a minute. George Meyers and Jack Hall were right behind me. For some reason, I decided to go to the head end of Six and chose to come down Road Twenty. This was the only road not under water at that time so I got there well before the others. I had a raincoat but was soon soaked. As I walked back along the derailed train, my first impression was that the bridge at Wildcat Creek had failed, as I could observe the old pilings from the bents of the trestle that had been retired, surrounding several of the derailed cars.

This began a thirty six hour ordeal. First, figuring out what had happened, then organizing the clean up and rerailing, and finally, getting the railroad put back together. All during this time I was very wet and very cold. I decided that as soon as I could, I would purchase the best set of rain gear that money could buy.


1/04/2007
mdo





Date: 01/04/07 15:32
Re: Mad Dog Chronicle # 182: Derailment of Number Six
Author: mdo

MGV suggested this thread and provided me with this photo. He was a passenger on this train, along with his father.

The photographer is looking to the railroad east. (north).

The truck is stopped on Brookside Drive.

San Pablo Bay is to the left of the photographer.

It is evident from the debris along the main tracks that the water level was up to the top of the rails in the recent past.

Note that at the point of this photograph this is a double track main line. I can not even see evidence of the easttbound main track, only 14 feet to the right of this point.

mdo



Date: 01/04/07 15:33
Re: Mad Dog Chronicle # 182: Derailment of Number Six
Author: stash

I remember that day well. Many creeks flow thru El Cerrito, mostly underground. My street was flooded by backed up water from a nearby creek. I had the scanner on all afternoon listing to RR radio, police, public works, etc. Due to lousy weather and messed-up traffic, I stayed home from the job (night shift). Then there was radio chatter about No. 6 derailing near San Pablo. The weather was too miserable for me to go investigate. I've never seen that much water on my local street since. But I'll never forget that storm.



Date: 01/04/07 16:04
Re: Mad Dog Chronicle # 182: Derailment of Number Six
Author: mdo

Posted with Matthew's permission:

Date: 11/21/06 12:20
Re: Amtrak #6 Derails at Washout in Richmond 4 January 1982 - Your Thoughts
From: mdo
To:
Bangers-with-Nikons

Bangers-with-Nikons Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> My father and I were passengers aboard the above
> when it hit the washout and derailed (and tossed
> us around our Superliner coach) during the "killer
> flood" of that week.
>
> Do you have any insight on why #6 was turned loose

Number 6 was held in the depot at 16th street until we could complete a track inspection from Martinez to Oakland. While this was in progress I was on the phone to the General Manager who was upset that we were delaying the departure.

Once the inspection was complete we turned the train loose,

No one at the SP knew at the time, as we had no information source that would tell us, that over seven inches of rain had fallen on the watershed of western Contra Costa County in somewhat less than two hours. This El Nino rainfall event caused both Wildcat and San Pablo Creeks to flood, and to overflow their banks in Richmond and San Pablo. This in turn caused water to back up in a trucking company yard, a low spot just to the north of the Cal P main lines between Wildcat and San Pablo Creeks. This was actually an old flood plain and there had actually once been a trestle at this location.

We later learned that the over flow and flooding occured after the track inspecter passed this location. He recalled seeing some water here but not up to the top of the rails as it was when the train passed over the fill.

When train number six crossed this fill at the location of the retired trestle, the saturated fill liquefied. The locomotives and first car actually made it across, the rest of the train derailed, as the fill failed and the track structure disintegrated.



> and later, what Amtrak and SP tried to do to help
> the passengers (which was basically nothing
> compared to what the Red Cross and Contra Costa
> County Sheriff's Office did)

Well, that was Amtraks responsibility, not the SP's. I know that we did nothing for the passengers and crew what so ever. If we had, then I would have been the person to organize it. But, it was not my job.

My job was to figure out what had happened and to organize the clearing and re railing of the train and the restoration of the railroad track structure.




> I am writing up the 25th anniversary of my
> experience for the Central Coast Chapter-NRHS
> newsletter and the only info I have other than my
> own experience was the scant info in the SP and
> Amtrak columns of the January 1982 CTC Board.




> If you wish to remain anonymous, that's
> fine...it's just I don't know any SP employees
> from that era/day who worked out of Oakland at the
> time.

You can quote me if you would like to. I must have toured at least four reporters and TV crews before the whole thing was cleaned up.

As to the questions in your other note to me: I came down Road Twenty which is just to the north of San Pablo Creek. The water actually got higher after I arrived. I got soaked to the skin, as I did not really have the right kind of rain gear. (After this incident I spent a lot of dough on the best rain gear available, actually yachting rain gear) That was the road where the head end had stopped, and I went to the head end first. I then walked back along side the derailed train. I did not know at that time about the old trestle. I actually thought at first that the trestle over Wildcat Creek had failed.

The quarter mile figure for damaged track is the right one. Fifty feet sounds more like the length of the trestle which had been replaced by that fill. The fill had drainage pipes in place under it but they were too small to drain that trucking yard when the two adjoining creeks flooded.

I would love to see your pictures. I like your Idea about a mad dog chronicle on the twenty fifth anniversary.

MDO


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Date: 01/04/07 16:56
Re: Mad Dog Chronicle # 182: Derailment of Number Six
Author: CarolVoss

I am not sure I recall this at all so thanks for telling us about it. However, you don't mention what sort of toll it took on the px---injuries? --so I gather there were only slight ones and nothing overturned.??
C.

Carol Voss
Salinas, CA



Date: 01/04/07 17:04
Re: Mad Dog Chronicle # 182: Derailment of Number Six
Author: mdo

CarolVoss Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I am not sure I recall this at all so thanks for
> telling us about it. However, you don't mention
> what sort of toll it took on the px---injuries?
> --so I gather there were only slight ones and
> nothing overturned.??
> C.

With great good fortune, no cars were on their sides after everything came to a rather wet, grinding, halt. I do not recall any passenger injuries of any consequence. A few injuries among the on board services crew. Nothing major. I only think three were kept over night for observation.

mdo



Date: 01/04/07 18:02
Re: Mad Dog Chronicle # 182: Derailment of Number Six
Author: WAF

Saw you hyrailing with a KTVU crew on the 10p news aboard your hyrailer explaining to the camera what had happened



Date: 01/05/07 12:14
Re: Mad Dog Chronicle # 182: Derailment of Number Six
Author: ProAmtrak

81-83 were the worse winters in Calironia, I for one ain't gonna forget all the detours we had to do leaving school at times because of that, and how flooded the street my grandma lived on got on the south side, while the other side was fine.



Date: 01/05/07 21:15
Re: Mad Dog Chronicle # 182: Derailment of Number Six
Author: 350

I also remember that day as I was on No 6 when it derailed at San pablo. As I drove down from Roseville that morning it was raining buckets all the way down I 80 at the I 80 and 680 interchange the ramp to 680 was already flooded by 9AM . I remember being held at 16th Street, however the crew was told that MOW was checking for high water between Martinez and Oakland . When No6 left Oakland the crew was told not exceed restricted speed between mp22 and Martinez. Needless to say the crew was surprised find Wildcat and San Pablo creeks had over flowed into their old flood planes at mp16. The culvert appeared to be under-cut by the high flow of water going from east (hill side) to the west (bay side) of the tracks, but it was hard to see this problem as No6 approched at 60MPH The lead unit ATK310 and 311 passed over the failed culvert with out derailing, however the engines hit the soft track very hard. Thus the culvert collapsed and the sub-grade liquified as the water pressure built up on the east side of the mainline flowed west toward the bay. Everything behind the baggage derailed , with the last 3 or 4 cars of No6 hitting the ever growing wash out very hard. MDO, your office had a SP rider along from the Mechanical Dept. That person was Andy Friend, who was also in the lead unit of No 6 that day. I believe he is still working for the Union Pacific in Omaha. Andy's father was a SP trainmaster in Oakland before he retired. The Condr. was Pat McBride Baggage man was Stan White and The Engineer was J.W. Russi all from Roseville. There were a pax few injures. The Richmond Fire Dept. rescued a few pax by boat as flood waters was flowing in one door and out the other side. As it turned out No6 would not have made it to Martinez as much of the 2 main tracks were covered with mud and high water between Pinole and MTZ.Thank you MDO for the memory,25yrs ... Now retired.



Date: 01/06/07 03:02
Re: Mad Dog Chronicle # 182: Derailment of Number Six
Author: topper

350 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> MDO, your office had a SP
> rider along from the Mechanical Dept. That person
> was Andy Friend, who was also in the lead unit of
> No 6 that day. I believe he is still working for
> the Union Pacific in Omaha.

Andy is no longer with UP, lucky dog, but his wife was an engineer for SP in Oakland and is now a Corridor Manager at the HDC, and his brother Earl #3 is an engineer for Amtrak in Oakland. He was their RFE in Oakland for a while. I hear he's recently become a big supporter of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

> Andy's father was a SP
> trainmaster in Oakland before he retired.

Yup. Earl #2. Another unique individual, worthy of having his own thread here, a la Uncle Hump.

> The
> Condr. was Pat McBride Baggage man was Stan White
> and The Engineer was J.W. Russi all from
> Roseville.

And I've been reminded that the fireman was Mike Flaherty, and one of the brakeman was Mike Maloney.



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