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Deadly Ellicott City Train Derailment Occurred Near Deteriorating Tracks

The National Transportation Safety Board provides more info about the crash in new report.

Derailment scene after midnight on Aug. 21, 2012. (Credit: Brandie Jefferson)
Derailment scene after midnight on Aug. 21, 2012. (Credit: Brandie Jefferson)
Nearly two years after a deadly CSX train derailment in Ellicott City, federal investigators released documents detailing the conditions surrounding the event.

On Aug. 20, 2012, friends Elizabeth Nass and Rose Mayr, both 19, were sitting on the railroad bridge overlooking Main Street when just before midnight, 21 train cars carrying coal went off the tracks. The women were buried in coal, killed by asphyxiation.

Among the findings that investigating agency the National Transportation Safety Board released this week is that a couple of hundred yards before the bridge, there was a small break in the tracks, according to WJZ.

Track inspections are conducted at least once a week, per federal standard. CSX inspectors visited the site and signed off on the tracks the day before the deadly derailment, according to ABC 2 News.

At the time of the derailment, the ballasts in the area were "fouled" with evidence of water saturation, according to the post-derailment report.

Previously, a Federal Railroad Administration inspector noted in a routine check on May 21, 2012, that there was deterioration caused by inadequate drainage around the tracks, a deficiency which CSX reportedly corrected June 4, 2012, by removing mud, according to the report.

A lawyer for the families of the victims said that they were considering filing a lawsuit unless CSX admits that it was at fault, the Associated Press reported.

"The families and our attorneys are determined to hold CSX fully accountable for the deaths of our daughters," Eric Nass, father of the deceased Elizabeth Nass, told WBAL.

In addition to finding issues on the tracks themselves, investigators reported that inspectors frequently discovered civilians breaking the law.

During track inspections, the CSX engineer responsible for Ellicott City—including track sections in Patapsco Valley State Park—said: "...it is not uncommon for employees to see trespassers and to ask them to leave the property."

Crossing or being on the tracks is illegal, considered trespassing on CSX property.

On the second page of a more than 100-page document from the investigator in charge, the investigator into the Ellicott City derailment describes the victims as follows: "The two individuals were local citizens (not railroad employees) sitting on the north side of the railroad bridge that crosses above Main Street in downtown Ellicott City, MD. The two individuals were not authorized to access the railroad right-of-way or to sit on the railroad bridge overpass."

Regardless, the mother of Elizabeth Nass said that her daughter was not at fault. "Our daughters did not cause the derailment—CSX did," Sue Nass said in a statement obtained by CBS DC. “A rail car should not turn over and kill innocent people."

The railroad company declined to comment to The Baltimore Sun and cited the pending investigation, stating: "CSX's sympathies remain with the families."

The National Transportation Safety Board will release the final report, including the official cause of the derailment, in the next two months, according to WJZ.

The 1,271 pages of documentation released this week are part of the "accident docket" and do not constitute the final report.

Related:

Bernie Trenary July 16, 2014 at 11:45 PM
So very sorry these young ladies were killed BUT despite my disdain for CSX, it was NOT their fault! There is an off limits right-of-way there for a reason!
Pete Grosso July 17, 2014 at 06:56 AM
If they weren't trespassing they would still be here, tragic, but very easily preventable incident.
Bill Powers July 17, 2014 at 02:17 PM
Michael asks a very good question. Tragic to see the good die young. I know of no one happy that two young girls died that night. But we need to regain the concept, as a society, of holding people responsible for their own actions. A train derailed in a place where it belonged that should have been unoccupied. The girls where occupying a place they didn't belong. As fate would have it, sadly, on that night it was the same place at the same time. I can't place fault with CSX.
BP July 17, 2014 at 09:40 PM
Trespassing would be climbing the eight foot railroad fence---bagging the railroad security cameras, hiding from the railroad lookout towers, and outrunning the two railroad cops in the state. There has to be deterrants not some sheriff going yap-yap-yap when the railroads pull his strings. Negligient homicide would be letting the track conditions to be DEADLY while paying company brass millions a year.
Pete Grosso July 17, 2014 at 10:24 PM
Trespassing would be being on tracks at any location other than a crossing or station platform, which Ellicott City is not. If they had been under the bridge walking on public sidewalks and the train derailed, killing them, then no that's negligence on the Railroad. But walking out onto a narrow bridge, where a person has no business being, is trespassing and is negligent on the violator.

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