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Worn, Fractured Rail Caused Deadly Md. Derailment, NTSB Determines

By Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — A worn and fractured rail along train tracks in historic Ellicott City, Md., caused the massive coal train derailment that killed two local women in 2012, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday.

The safety agency’s investigation took nearly two years. The NTSB said it found evidence that the section of CSX Transportation rail showed signs of “rolling contact fatigue,” or a “gradual deterioration of the rail-head surface” over time.

The break in the rail was several hundred feet from where 19-year-old college students Rose Louese Mayr and Elizabeth Conway Nass were seated on an overpass that carries the railroad above Main Street.

Mayr and Nass were trespassing at the time of the incident, as the bridge is part of the railroad’s right-of-way. The NTSB said while their presence next to the tracks “placed them in harm’s way,” it “did not contribute to the derailment in any way.”

The two women’s families have said they are considering litigation against CSX unless the railroad offers a public apology for the incident and offers a financial settlement.

The NTSB report found that CSX had been conducting routine inspections of local tracks, including ultrasonic testing more frequently than is required by federal regulations, in part because of a “history of rail defects” in the area and an “increase in tonnage due to a rise in coal traffic over the previous years.”

The last ultrasonic test for internal rail flaws prior to the accident on Aug. 20, 2012, occurred Aug. 3, the NTSB investigation found, but “no defective rails were marked near the derailment area.” Defects were noted along other sections of the more than 15 miles of track studied.

The derailment sent 21 train cars off the tracks, seven of which landed in a nearby parking lot. Mayr and Nass were asphyxiated after being buried in coal from an overturned car on the overpass.
The accident drew a large emergency response and shut down the small community for days amid a massive cleanup, including environmental assessments of coal contamination in the nearby Patapsco River.

Because of the Ellicott City accident and earlier derailments like it in other parts of the country, the NTSB said it and the Federal Railroad Administration have introduced new rail failure prevention guidelines that will be incorporated into regulatory policy moving forward.

The NTSB said it will also hold a public forum next year to educate the public about the dangers of entering a railroad right-of-way.

Photo via WikiCommons

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CSX Train Carrying About 8,000 Tons Of Coal Derails In Maryland

By Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun

A CSX freight train carrying about 8,000 tons of coal partially derailed in Bowie, MD, early Thursday morning, according to CSX officials and the Prince George’s County Fire & EMS Department.

The incident marked the third major Mid-Atlantic incident for the railroad since Wednesday, when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Lynchburg, Va., and a massive retaining wall collapsed onto freight tracks in Baltimore.

Gary Sease, a CSX spokesman, said Thursday that the railroad is focused on the needs of nearby residents in Baltimore and Lynchburg, and did not have estimates for when any of the tracks would be cleared.

Whether heavy rains in Maryland and Virginia played a role in the accidents will be part of the railroad’s investigations, Sease said.

The line where the derailment occurred in Bowie is also a freight line, officials said — raising questions about the combined impact the Baltimore and Bowie incidents will have on freight movements in the region, including out of the port of Baltimore.

The Baltimore tracks covered by the collapse and subsequent landslide in Baltimore serve trains carrying container cargo out of the Seagirt Marine Terminal, and port officials were assessing the potential impact on port operations late Wednesday, according to Richard Scher, a Maryland Port Administration spokesman.

Sease said all of CSX’s operations out of Seagirt were at a “standstill” as of Thursday morning.

“But we’re talking to (the Maryland Port Administration) on contingency plans, and of course working at the Baltimore site to determine how quickly we can get our line open there,” Sease said.

Commuter lines were not affeected in Baltimore or Bowie, officials said.

No injuries were reported in the Bowie incident, which firefighters and hazardous-materials personnel responded to at about 2:30 a.m. near the intersection of Old Annapolis Road and Laurel Bowie Road, Prince George’s fire officials said.

The train of three locomotives and 63 cars was headed from a coal mine in southwestern Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh, to Woodzell in southern Maryland, Sease said.

Three CSX employees who were aboard the train at the time were accounted for and uninjured, officials said.

At the scene, three locomotives and 10 train cars had left the tracks but did not overturn, according to the fire department. According to Sease and in images shared on Twitter by the Bowie Volunteer Fire Department, which also responded, at least one car appeared to have overturned, spilling its load of coal.

Prince George’s officials said there were “no immediate life safety concerns or haz-mat issues” at the site of the Bowie derailment, and the situation had been turned over to CSX.

Fire officials will “continue to monitor the situation throughout the day,” the department said.

Photo: Brandon Townley via Flickr