Two nineteen year old college students were killed in the early hours of Tuesday, August 21 when a CSX train derailed in Ellicott City, Maryland. Elizabeth Nassand Rose Mayr were sitting on a rail bridge when a catastrophic failure occurred causing the massive freight train to derail and spill thousands of tons of coal. Tweets from the two friends indicate that they were nearby when the accident occurred. The worst was confirmed when their bodies were found beneath mounds of coal.
According to preliminary reports and an article in the Washington Post (“In Maryland train deaths, more questions than answers”), the train’s central brake system experienced a failure. As the train approached a dramatic turn over the bridge, the brake line connecting all of the cars failed. This failure triggered the brakes on each car to then engage. As the train traveled at approximately 25 miles per hour over the bridge, the massive derailment occurred. The train’s conductor and two engineers say that they noticed nothing out of the ordinary until the automatic brake system began to engage.
Investigators from the NTSB have been diligently studying the scene for an explanation for how this happened. The tracks, the train, the operators and the companies that oversee each element of the scene will be placed under scrutiny to explain the accident. More importantly than determining why a train would derail is discovering how the two girls could have gained access to the bridge. This will also have to be determined and may influence lawsuits against responsible parties.
Train accidents in the United States during 2012 have been responsible for multiple deaths in Missouri, Illinois, and now Maryland. Injuries to railroad workers, train passengers, automobile drivers, and pedestrians also happen throughout the country as the result of train accidents. Not all fatalities and injuries are caused by derailment but many of them could have been prevented with greater safety measures in place. Whether that is the case in Maryland remains to be seen.