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Baltimore, CSX reach $1.2 million settlement in E. 26th Street collapse

More than 20 Baltimore families will share $1.2 million as compensation for the collapse of a street in Charles Village nearly two years ago.

The retaining wall that held East 26th Street over railroad tracks failed in April 2014 after heavy rains. Trees, streetlights and cars parked on the street fell to the rails below.

Residents of the block between St. Paul and North Charles streets, some of whom had long complained that the aging street was showing signs of deterioration, were displaced for months.

The city's spending panel voted 5-0 Wednesday to approve the settlement. CSX Transportation will pay about $700,000; the city will contribute $467,000.

City Solicitor George Nilson said the city agreed to share responsibility for the cost of claims filed by residents as part of a deal with the rail company to share the $15 million cost of rebuilding the 120-year-old stone retaining wall.

The new support wall is made of reinforced concrete, with anchors attached to bedrock.

Since the collapse, Nilson said, the city has updated policies for the inspection and maintenance of the walls along railroad cuts throughout Baltimore, and has sorted out who owns the land the walls are built on.

The original agreements, some of which date as far back as the 1800s, vary between rail companies.

"We are even more vigilant and careful to pay attention to the other walls that exist and to make sure the walls are properly maintained, whether they are CSX walls or Amtrak walls," Nilson said.

Nilson said the East 26th Street settlement approved Wednesday by the Board of Estimates was reached after "fairly lengthy negotiations." He said it forestalled "another two or three years" of litigation.

Families could receive money as early as next month. Payouts range from about $40,000 to about $70,000. The exact number of families to receive compensation was not immediately available.

A spokesman for CSX said the agreement requires the rail company to maintain the new wall. It is to be inspected at least once a year and have maintenance and engineering employees monitor it.

"Safety is CSX's highest priority and zero accidents is our goal," spokesman Rob Doolittle said in a statement. "We invest more than $1 billion annually on the maintenance of our infrastructure to help ensure the safety of the communities where we operate, our employees and the freight entrusted to us."

Attorney Hassan Murphy, who represents about 20 of the residents, declined to comment, citing a non-disparagement clause in the settlement.

Residents claimed the collapse caused property damage, economic losses and injuries. Retired Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Carol E. Smith oversaw the arbitration.

Cellphone video of the wall's dramatic collapse went viral.

The city put residents in hotels and helped them pay for transportation and food. The street was rebuilt and opened to traffic last May.

The street was placed on the city's list of capital projects in 2013; there were plans to rebuild it in 2015.

In a report issued in August 2014, the city said neither CSX nor city maintenance crews who reviewed resident complaints before the collapse had the expertise to identify that surface issues were symptomatic of a larger failure to come. The city found an unusually cold and wet winter was a factor in the disaster, but it did not conclusively say what caused it.

City officials have pledged to conduct ground testing of streets that receive more than one complaint and to review aging infrastructure after major rainstorms.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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