Today's News / Transportation Safety

Fatal Md. derailment caused by broken rail

NTSB wraps up investigation

National Transportation Safety BoardThe derailment of a CSX coal train on a railroad bridge in Ellicott City, Md., on August 20, 2012 was caused by a broken rail with evidence of rolling contact fatigue, the National Transportation Board (NTSB) has concluded.

In the wrong place at the wrong time

Tragically, two people who were sitting on a CSX bridge were killed when coal spilled out of the rail cars during the derailment, which occurred shortly before midnight in downtown Ellicott City. The presence in the rail right-of-way of the two fatally injured persons, whose unauthorized access placed them in harm’s way, did not contribute to the derailment in any way.

Of the 80 cars in the train, the first 21 derailed, with seven falling into a parking lot below the track. The train had been traveling 23 m.p.h. -- below the speed limit for that section of track.

A breakdown of the track

The NTSB investigation found that the point of derailment was a rail fracture several hundred feet before the bridge. The section of rail, which was examined in the NTSB’s materials laboratory in Washington, showed evidence of rolling contact fatigue, a gradual breakdown of the rail-head surface.

As a result of this and earlier accidents investigated by the NTSB, the Federal Railroad Administration established a Rail Failure Working Group to study the effects of rail-head wear and resulting rail surface conditions. Its recommendations were adopted by the Rail Safety Advisory Committee in April.

Trespassing can be deadly

According to Operation Lifesaver, 476 pedestrian rail trespass fatalities occurred nationwide in 2013. After the Ellicott City derailment, CSX installed a chain-link fence along the right-of-way downtown in an attempt to deter future trespassing on the Ellicott City railroad bridge.

The NTSB will also hold a public forum next year to explore and educate the public about the dangers associated with unauthorized individuals in the railroad right-of-way.

The full accident brief is available at: http://go.usa.gov/Na7J

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