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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