Train traffic through the Howard Street Tunnel was halted for nearly three hours last night after CSX train engineers noted water dripping from its ceiling - a safety concern in the wake of the train derailment, fire and water main break that shut down much of downtown Baltimore in July.
CSX spokesman Robert L. Gould said an engineer saw water trickling from the ceiling of the 106-year-old tunnel about 5:30 p.m., prompting a call by the railroad to the city Department of Public Works. The tunnel was closed about an hour later after a second engineer saw the water drip continuing, Gould added.
City public works employees, including the leak locator unit, assembled last night to investigate the problem and left by about 12:30 this morning.
No definitive sources of the leak emerged from an initial look. A public works spokesman, Kurt L. Kocher, said the crews were going to "see if any of our lines are leaking."
Kocher played down the incident, saying it shouldn't interfere with the downtown routine today.
"I understand there is a small leak - a dripping of water," Kocher said. "It's a very small amount of water - it's literally dripping."
The cause of the July derailment and subsequent rail car chemical leak and fire remains undetermined. Railroad officials have suggested that a broken water pipe might have contributed to the derailment, while city officials have pointed to heat from the fire - said to have reached 1,500 degrees - as a factor in the rupture of a 40-inch water main that left a gaping hole at Howard and Lombard streets.
A final report from the National Transportation Safety Board investigation might not be ready for a year.
Speculating on the source of last night's dripping water, Kocher said: "There's a contractor doing some work in the area and maybe it might be from there."
Kocher said he did not know the nature of the contractor's work or the identity of the contractor.
Gould expressed optimism last night that the tunnel's integrity has not been breached. "There appears to be no structural damage to the tunnel," Gould said.
The tunnel - a key link in East Coast freight lines - reopened about 9:30 p.m., with a precautionary reduction in speed from 20 mph to 10 mph, Gould said.
Sun staff writer Richard Irwin contributed to this article.