August 22, 2012 — Yesterday just after midnight, a CSX train carrying thousands of tons of coal derailed and killed two young women who were hanging out on a walkway next to the tracks. The accident occurred in Ellicott City, Maryland, located about 12 miles outside Baltimore. Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the train accident.
The 3,000-foot train was hauling about 9,000 tons of coal and traveling about 25 miles per hour, officials said. Investigators know that the emergency brakes were applied automatically after the air line that pressurizes the braking system was disconnected. However, investigators do not know whether these factors played a role in the accident. The investigation will likely continue for several weeks. Cleaning up the scene may also take several weeks, while crews remove thousands of tons of coal, the derailed train, and vehicles in a parking lot under the train that were crushed by falling coal.
The tragic accident is bringing attention to CSX railroad’s history of derailments and accidents in Maryland. This is the third accident to occur in the last month — two of which occurred on August 8. That day, a CSX train collided with a vehicle in an intersection, and the vehicle driver was injured. In a separate incident, a CSX train derailed and 40 residents of Woodstock had to be evacuated. CSX has reported 20 derailments in Maryland since 2010, though most of the incidents were minor and did not cause injuries.
CSX trains have also been involved in some major accidents. One of the most serious occurred in 2001, when 60 cars of a CSX train derailed in an old tunnel underneath Baltimore. The chemicals in the train sparked a massive fire, which paralyzed Baltimore and stopped north-south railroad traffic on the East Coast for a week.
Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) said, “I urge the NTSB to conduct its investigation thoroughly and quickly to ensure the safety of Maryland communities and provide answers for the families grieving today.”
Train derailments can occur for many reasons. The most common cause is poor track conditions, which may be the result of the railroad failing to adequately maintain the track. Other causes include human error, shifting loads inside the railroad cars, equipment failure, bad weather, and more. CSX operates on about 21,000 miles of track in 23 states on the East Coast of the United States and Canada.
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