The derailment that killed two young women in Ellicott City Tuesday morning adds one more incident to a long history of CSX trains leaving the tracks in Maryland — from little-remembered events in the company's own railyards to the spectacular fire in the Howard Street Tunnel in 2001.
It could be months before federal investigators determine the cause of the bizarre tragedy that occurred overnight in the historic Howard County mill town. The facts that emerged Tuesday suggested the fatalities were largely the result of trespassing on the tracks.
But over the years — and even in recent weeks — CSX has compiled a lengthy record of jumping the tracks in Maryland.
U.S. Sen.Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat, expressed concern over the CSX accident, the railroad's third in Maryland this month. A single car derailed Aug. 8 in Woodstock in western Howard County, causing the evacuation of about 40 nearby residents. The same day a CSX train and a vehicle collided at a crossing in Rosedale, injuring the vehicle's driver.
"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," Mikulski said "CSX must get to the bottom of what went wrong and outline what steps they are taking to ensure it will never happen again."
Track conditions are the leading cause of derailments, followed by human error, said Warren Flatau, a Federal Railroad Administration spokesman. Other causes include equipment failure, load-shifting and weather.
CSX ranked third last year among the industry's Big Four — a group that also includes Norfolk Southern, BNSF and Union Pacific — in reportable safety incidents, Flatau said.
FRA records list 20 CSX derailments in Maryland since the beginning of 2010 — many of them minor events in railyards, including one March 30 in a Howard County yard.
Two of the 2010 events received significant media attention. In August 2010, CSX had a 13-car derailment at the Howard Street Tunnel that was blamed on track problems. That March, the railroad had a nine-car pileup in Patapsco State Park — not far from the scene of Tuesday's accident — as a result of a broken wheel rim.
In December 2006, a CSX derailment involving a tanker carrying liquid ammonia forced the evacuation of 100 homes along the border of Carroll and Howard counties, farther west along the same line where Elizabeth Conway Nass and Rose Louese Mayr, both 19, were killed. That line, which follows the Patapsco River, is the original main line of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, a predecessor of CSX.
Over the years, there have been a series of CSX derailments in Baltimore. A 12-car derailment in November 2007 near M&T Bank Stadium was followed the next month by an incident in which a CSX tanker left the rails in Locust Point.
In 2005, then-Mayor Martin O'Malley called for a federal inspection of the Howard Street Tunnel after a three-car derailment near the site of the 2001 chemical leak and fire that paralyzed much of downtown and halted north-south freight traffic on the East Coast for almost a week.
That incident, which brought Baltimore international news coverage, began when 60 cars in a CSX train derailed in the more than 100-year-old tunnel through the heart of downtown Baltimore. The fire was put out in a monumental effort by Baltimore firefighters, but it led to a years-long legal battle between the Jacksonville, Fla.-based railroad and the O'Malley administration that finally ended with a settlement.
Remarkably, nobody was killed or injured in the 2001 tunnel fire. That was not the case in a CSX derailment the year before, when a train left the tracks in the small Western Maryland town of Bloomington and ran into a home, killing a 15-year-old boy. The National Transportation Safety Board, the same agency that is investigating the Ellicott City derailment, found that the train's dynamic brakes failed while it was traveling too fast to stop using air brakes.
Robert Sullivan, a CSX spokesman, did not return calls or an email requesting comment about Tuesday's accident.
Bill Keppen, an Annapolis-based transportation safety consultant and a former railroad engineer, said CSX's safety performance has been improving in recent years.
"I think they've turned the corner, so to speak, in some ways," he said.
But, Keppen said, the industry still needs to do more to reduce the number of accidents caused by "human factors," or avoidable errors.
One area in which railroads have had trouble making progress is keeping people from trespassing on their tracks — often with fatal consequences.
Marmie Edwards, a spokeswoman for Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit that seeks to educate people about the dangers of railroad tracks, said there have been 178 deaths — not including suicides — and 180 injuries involving trespassers so far this year. Last year, she said, 411 were killed.
"There's 145,000 miles of railroad tracks across the country," she said. "It is in some ways difficult to put up a barrier for that many miles."
Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun