Train Ferry - Hazards


The Japanese train ferry Toya Maru sank during typhoon Marie on 26 September 1954, killing more than a thousand. Four other train ferries, Seikan maru No.11, Kitami maru, Tokachi maru and Hidaka maru also sank on that day; the loss appeared to be of about 1,430 people.

In those days, Japanese train ferries did not have a rear sea-gate, because engineers believed that inrushing water could be evacuated expeditiously and would not pose a danger. However, when the wavelength of the sea has special relationship with the length of a ship, evacuation of inrushing water is interfered by the next inrushing water, causing rising water on the ship. After the accidents, all Japanese train ferries were retrofitted with rear sea-gates and weather forecast technology was greatly promoted.

The Norwegian train ferry Skagerrak, built in 1965, sank in gale force winds on 7 September 1966 on a journey between Kristiansand, Norway and Hirtshals, Denmark, when the rear sea-gate was destroyed by heavy seas. One person subsequently died of injuries, and six freight cars and a number of automobiles sank to the bottom with the ship.

The Canadian train ferry MV Patrick Morris sank on 20 April 1970 while assisting in a search and rescue operation for a sinking fishing trawler (M.F.V. "Enterprise") off the northeast coast of Cape Breton Island. The ferry was trying to maintain position to retrieve a body when her stern gates were overpowered by 30-foot (9 m) waves; she sank within 30 minutes taking several rail cars and 4 crew members, including the Captain, to the bottom of the Cabot Strait. There were 47 survivors.

Train ferries rarely sank because of sea-hazards, although they have some weaknesses linked to the very nature of transporting trains "on rail" on a ship.

These weaknesses include:

  • Trains are loaded at a rather high level, making the ship top-heavy.
  • The train deck is difficult to compartmentalise, so that sloshing flood water can destabilise the ship.
  • The sea doors where the trains go in and out are a weakness, even if placed at the rear of the ship.
  • The train carriages need to be strongly secured lest they break away and roll around, particularly on long, open-water routes.

The Ann Arbor Railroad of Michigan developed a system of making cars fast that was adopted by many other lines. Screw jacks were placed on the corners of the railcar and the car was raised slightly to take its weight off of its wheels. Chains and turnbuckles were placed around the car frame and hooked onto the rails and tightened. Clamps were placed behind the wheels on the rails. Deckhands engaged in continual inspection and tightening of the gear during the crossing. This system effectively held the cars in place when the ship encountered rough weather.

Several train ferries—the SS Milwaukee, SS Pere Marquette 18, and SS Marquette & Bessemer No. 2—were lost on the Great Lakes. These losses, though causes remain unconfirmed, were attributed to seas boarding the unprotected stern of the ship and swamping it in a severe storm. As a result, seagates were required on all new ships and required to be retrofitted on older vessels. In addition, two wooden crosslake railroad ferries were burned.

Some accidents occurred at the slip during loading, when stability was a major problem. Train ferries often list when heavy cars are loaded onto a track on one side while the other side is empty. Normal procedure was to load half of a track on one side, all of the track on the other side, and then the rest of the original track. If this procedure was not followed, results could be disastrous. In 1909, the SS Ann Arbor No. 4 capsized in her slip in Manistique, Michigan when a switching crew put eight cars of iron ore on her portside tracks. The crew got off without loss of life, but salvage operations were costly and time-consuming.

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