On the morning of Dec. 18, the eyes of the nation fell on Dupont, Wash., where an Amtrak Cascades passenger train derailed, killing three people and injuring dozens more.
The crash shut down the southbound lanes of I-5, enveloping the region in a traffic crunch until the 270,000-pound locomotive could be moved from the freeway.
For that, officials put in a call to Scappoose-based Oxbo Mega Transport Solutions.
“There’s only a couple of trailers in the whole United States that could actually handle the load of the locomotive and be legal on the road, so they knew to call us to do it,” Oxbo CEO Keith Settle said.
Oxbo has been in business for 25 years. They employ 40 people at any given time and 99 percent of their staff resides in Columbia County. It began as a house moving company that transported local buildings, but in the past ten years has grown into an industrial company that ships loads across the U.S. and Canada.
The call for Oxbo’s services came in around 4 p.m. on the afternoon of the crash, and Settle and his crew immediately began mobilizing equipment. “We showed up to work that morning and he said we’ve gotta do this,” push operator Chance Breedlove said.
The rig that would haul the train, a dual-lane, double-drop super load trailer, was entirely designed and engineered in Scappoose. Created to haul loads between 200,000 and 600,000 pounds, the trailer spreads the weight of cargo so it can be legally transported across bridges and highways. Without it, such heavy loads could destroy the very roads they travel down.
Mobilizing the rig would not prove an easy task. “On the fly, we had to engineer and make some changes to it to actually fit the locomotive because it was so long,” Settle said.
The rig is generally used to move transformers. They’re heavy, but their length tops out at 25 or 30 feet. The locomotive still lying on I-5 was 80 feet long. To make matters worse, the car was 14 feet tall. With most bridges providing only 15 or 16 feet of clearance, some design changes needed to be made.
“One of our engineering guys, he came up with a plan, and we actually fabricated stuff here overnight and had it delivered up there Tuesday,” Settle said, adding that his crew was already on site waiting to put everything together so they could pick up the train by 5 a.m. on Wed. morning. “It was a massive operation to get it done.”
Being on site, Settle said, was a somber experience that felt like a scene from a movie. “It’s a mess, everything’s crushed, there’s debris everywhere and it’s not just the debris from the train. You see personal belongings,” Settle said. “There’s suitcases and clothes and stuff that makes it human. It’s not an exciting place to be by any means, but it’s just amazing the power and devastation that this thing caused.”
Oxbo crews brought the trailer in via the closed southbound lanes of I-5. “It was kind of eerie,” lead truck driver Kyle Stobbe said. “Everything was still hanging off the track and the engine was in the middle of I-5.”
It took two 500-ton cranes from other contractors to pick the train up and move it onto Oxbo’s trailer. Settle said the fuel had to be drained because it still had 1,800 gallons of diesel inside, sparking environmental concerns.
“The main thing is they had to keep it upright because they were trying to save the engine, and also for investigation purposes. You can’t even chain to it because they want to look at every little piece of evidence,” Settle said. “They don’t take any chances on that.”
From there, the train was transported to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will keep it for investigation. “They recreate the whole thing right there, so all the trains had to be put back in order how they were,” Settle said.
Most importantly, the train that Oxbo transported was the final piece that needed to be moved before the southbound lanes of I-5 could be reopened. Dupont locals had been waiting anxiously for almost four days to return to their regular commute, many of them stuck on one side and unable to get through. By the time Oxbo’s wheels were rolling, people had lined up on the side of the road to pay their respects as it drove by.
“Normally everyone is just mad because we’re blocking traffic,” crewmember Zack Brittain said with a laugh. “But people realized we were getting stuff out of the road for them to be able to move. People were actually happy for once.”
That gratitude extended beyond the moving of the train. When they went out to eat at restaurants, locals bought their dinner. The majority of the Oxbo crew left Scappoose that Monday morning with nothing but the clothes on their backs, unaware that they would end up in Dupont for three days.
“We were at the hotel after the move, and the gal who owned this store, her husband was a police officer that was one of the first on the scene,” Stobbe said. “We were trying to find socks and deodorant and she just let us have it all."
The store was Dupont General Store, and though the crew couldn’t remember the woman’s name, they made a point of wanting to thank her. “If you could put that we all said thanks to that lady for doing that, that’d be cool,” Breedlove said.
Since returning home on Thursday evening, videos of the Oxbo crew hauling the final train car from I-5 have been viewed over a million times and shared thousands more. Settle said he’s received calls from clients and people all over the world to express their pride in the crew’s work.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this company and the people that work here to help put us in the position to be trusted to do this,” Settle said. “It makes me proud. I was actually born and raised in Columbia County, so for me, it’s pretty special to be able to take a group of people from here and make them into a company that’s internationally recognized to do this kind of work.”