The train cars fell toward the river, away from the curved street of businesses, and the damage was more contained than it could have been.

The coal that buried and killed the women as they sat on the edge of the bridge, the 21 derailed train cars and the crushed vehicles parked in town when the train came undone have long been removed.

Local residents and shopkeepers got back to work once the cleanup was completed. The stain of coal washed away. New fencing along the train tracks was installed to further restrict access to the area. And Howard County police added a community officer to monitor the area along with CSX security. The town has provided rail safety information at recent events to promote the downtown area.

The town's recovery from such an "exceedingly complex and intense" disaster in such a small area was "a testament to the community, how much they pulled together," said Ryan Miller, the county's emergency management director.

"To see how a sudden and unpredictable scenario would play out in Ellicott City was pretty amazing," Miller said. "It is a really, really cool town, because everybody kind of chips in to get through stuff like this."

CSX, which Miller called an "ideal partner" in the cleanup, resumed train service on the tracks not long after the derailment. A spokeswoman this week said the company continues to keep the Nass and Mayr families in their thoughts and is cooperating fully with the NTSB investigation.

On that dark morning a year ago, Liz Nass and Rose Mayr couldn't be found but everyone knew they'd been near the bridge around the time of the derailment because of messages they had posted on Twitter.

Liz's brother, Brendan, saw the posts, heard about the accident, and then called his father after frantically and unsuccessfully trying to reach his sister with the help of his younger brother Jonathan.

First Eric Nass and his current wife, Patti, and then Sue Nass, and then Mark Mayr arrived at the scene. Sharon Mayr would come soon after. The fathers approached everyone they could, emergency workers and bystanders, asking them for more information. It had been a few hours since the accident, and word of two casualties was circulating.

"If you can at least rule out that it was 19-year-old girls, I can go home," Eric remembers telling police. "Just tell me it wasn't two 19-year-old girls."

The officers wouldn't provide details of the immediate investigation, "but they weren't telling us to go home," Eric said.

"What we weren't being told was telling," said Mark.

At some point all the parents were welcomed into the nearby Phoenix Emporium restaurant and bar by its owner, Mark Hemmis.

"I have kids, so it wasn't a right thing or wrong thing, it was just something that needed to get done," Hemmis said. "Nobody had anywhere to go."

A chaplain who volunteers with the county Fire Department arrived. Still, the parents had no confirmation of the horrible fears rushing through their heads.

About 6 a.m., a local television report on the derailment came on in the bar. There was Liz's picture. Still no official word. It would be another two hours before the parents were taken to the Howard County police station.

Sharon would identify Rose by viewing a picture taken of her body. Sue's brother, Chip Simpson, a major in the Delaware State Police, identified Liz. Simpson had immediately begun driving to Ellicott City when Sue called him earlier in the morning.

"We had to do the unthinkable for any parent," Sharon said.

The parents began calling family members, afraid they would hear the horrible news from someone else. Mark called Rose's sister Anna in Manhattan, one of the most difficult things he's ever done, he said.

As the weeks passed, Mark and Sharon, Eric and Sue became bonded in their shared grief. "This experience was a hell of a thing, and we've kind of drawn on each other," Mark said.