Amtrak versus Bulldozer Accident in the Bakken


By: Bob van der Valk

Steve Unterseher of Smiley’s Energy Service was traveling from Williston, North Dakota back home to Fairview, Montana. He did not know his friend was on the train involved in am accident until after another co-worker told him when came upon the scene of the Amtrak train stalled on the track with major damage to the front portion of the diesel locomotive. About a half a mile further was a bulldozer lying on its side with its operator still trapped underneath. Rescuers were already on scene extracting the wounded man from the wreckage.

A construction company is rebuilding a section of ND Hwy 1804 between Trenton, ND and ND Hwy 58. It appears as though they may be building it into a four lane road. The road runs south of and parallel to 1804 until about 5 miles west of Trenton where the highway turns north then northeast and crosses the tracks. Apparently the bulldozer operator was attempting to cross the train tracks from the north side of the highway going toward the highway facing south. The tracks to the west curve around a hill so it is essentially a blind curve for the train engineer. No injuries were reported on the train by Amtrak officials; however, the train passengers were not allowed to get off the train pending the arrival of a replacement diesel engine.

The dozer operator was transported to Mercy Hospital in Williston, North Dakota by Life Flight helicopter, where he passed away.

damaged Amtrak diesel locomotive 7-30-13
(Photo) Damage to Amtrak diesel locomotive right after the accident – 7-30-13

The accident was caused by the Amtrak train coming around a blind corner and the engineer not seeing the bulldozer on the track ahead of him. Road 1804 is under construction and parallels the tracks between Trenton and Highway 58. No one on the train was hurt but passengers were not allowed to disembark to get rides with waiting friends. Amtrak waited for another diesel engine to arrive to take over for the damaged one.

A hole in the front of the diesel locomotive of the train was observed along with severe damage to the bulldozer, which landed on its side next the railroad track.

Dick Reed and his wife, who live in McMinnville, Oregon, were on the train while Amtraking to Little Rock, Arkansas via Chicago. Dick Reed stated that it got pretty hot inside the coach because of the lack of HEP*. After the night air started cooling off the train the crew opened doors to try to get an air circulation to the passengers.

*Head End Power is a system of electrical power distribution on a passenger train in which a power source in a central location on the train (usually a locomotive or a generator car) generates all the electricity for “hotel” power (non-traction, or non-motive power uses) needed by the train. Virtually all modern passenger trains have their electrical needs met in this fashion. The acronym HEP is its common usage.

Temporary repairs made to damaged Amtrak diesel locomotive parked in Trenton, ND

(Photo) Temporary repairs made to damaged Amtrak diesel locomotive parked in Trenton, ND
Pictures by Steve Unterseher

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