NTSB Investigates Maryland Freight Train Derailment that Killed Two

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the derailment of a freight train, which occurred in Ellicott City, Maryland on the night of Monday, August 20, 2012. Two teenagers who were sitting near the tracks died as a result of the derailment. The accident left train cars and coal strewn over a wide area. A preliminary report from the NTSB describes the basic timeline of the derailment, but the actual cause may not be known for some time.

According to the NTSB’s preliminary report, an eastbound freight train, operated by CSX Transportation and traveling on the CSX Old Main Line Subdivision through Ellicott City, derailed at about 11:56 p.m. on August 20. The train consisted of two locomotives and eighty freight cars carrying coal, traveling at the maximum approved speed of twenty-five miles per hour. The twenty-one lead cars derailed. Six of those cars fell about fifteen feet from the railroad bridge into a public parking area on the north side of the track. The other fifteen cars overturned and spilled their cargo. Witnesses said the coal on the ground was up to a foot deep.

The two teenagers who died were sitting on the north side of the bridge and were killed by coal spilling from the train cars. Police say that the two women were sitting with their backs to the train as it passed several feet away. The women posted photos of the area to Twitter just before the derailment, which may help investigators determine what happened. The railroad bridge is reportedly a popular place for young people to gather in Ellicott City, about fifteen miles west of Baltimore. Some people quoted in media reports, however, have stated that they do not believe it is a safe area for pedestrians.

Investigators have stated that the train’s emergency brakes came on automatically. The two locomotives were not among the cars that derailed, and the three crew members reportedly said that they were not aware of a problems until the emergency brakes were applied. Investigators believe that the derailment triggered the emergency brakes, as opposed to the emergency brakes causing the derailment.

The NTSB’s final report may not be complete for several months or longer. The derailment reportedly caused $2.2 million in physical damage, including the destruction of part of the rail line and multiple crushed vehicles in the parking area below the bridge. The rail line is reportedly one of the oldest in the country, originally completed in 1830. CSX has a history of train derailments in Maryland, according to the Baltimore Sun, with as many as twenty derailments in the state since January 2010. Many of these were minor railyard incidents, but at least two involved multiple cars. A CSX derailment in December 2006 killed two people and caused the evacuation of one hundred homes in Howard and Carroll counties due to an ammonia spill.

Since an investigation of the derailment is ongoing, questions about civil liability may be premature. Any question of negligence or liability on the part of the railroad company may depend on questions of the foreseeability of injuries to people along the tracks, as well as questions of comparative negligence possibly raised as a defense. Lebowitz & Mzhen’s attorneys are skilled at pursuing justice for people in Maryland who have been injured or lost loved ones in accidents resulting from the negligence or unlawful conduct of others, such as train or automobile accidents. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Baltimore City Train Incident: Man Dragged 10 Feet By Subway After His Arm Gets Caught In Moving Door, Maryland Accident Law Blog, July 21, 2011
State’s Board of Public Works Approves $1.5 Million Lutherville Train Accident Settlement in Maryland Wrongful Death of Two Teenagers, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 27, 2010
Washington DC Metro Train Accident Death Count Goes Up to 9 Fatalities, Maryland Accident Law Blog, June 24, 2009

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