CSXT Train Fire in Baltimore Tunnel
[From various information sources and news accounts] . . .
WEDNESDAY, JULY 18, 2001.. At approximately 3:10 PM today, an eastbound CSXT freight train caught fire within the Howard Street Tunnel in downtown Baltimore. According to news reports, the train (which was traveling from the Carolinas area to the New Jersey area), stopped in the tunnel due to some sort of problem (possibly a derailment). The conductor was unable to inspect the train due to a heavy buildup of smoke, and he was successful in cutting the locomotives from the train, the locomotives were able to exit the tunnel, and the 2-person crew is reported to be safe. According to a CSX official, the train has 60 cars, and includes some with hazardous materials. Reportedly the hazardous material includes hydrochloric, glacial acetic, and fluorosilicic acids; propylene glycol; tripropylene; and ethyl hexyl phthalate (per the Baltimore Sun newspaper). As of 6 PM: It is not known if any of the hazardous material cars are burning, but a major fire has developed somewhere in the train, with heavy black smoke coming from both ends of the tunnel.. Fire units responded to the blaze, and air raid sirens in the city were sounded.. Oriole Park at Camden Yards is within the immediate vicinity of the west (geographically south) portal of the tunnel. An afternoon baseball game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards between the Texas Rangers and the Baltimore Orioles was in the process of completion at the time of the fire, and a second game scheduled for the evening had to be postponed because of the fire. Rush hour traffic was disrupted because of the fire, and MARC Camden Line service was curtailed at Dorsey with bus service substituted. Baltimore's light-rail line, which runs adjacent to the CSXT line at both ends of the affected tunnel and operates on Howard Street directly above the tunnel, has been suspended. Amtrak Northeast Corridor and MARC Penn Line services are not affected, although Baltimore's Penn Station is only about 3 blocks from the east portal of the CSXT tunnel.. As of 8:40 PM: Smoke is still coming from the east portal of the tunnel, although the smoke has now turned white (or gray) instead of black, and the smoke has abated somewhat at the west end.. There is some concern over the residual effects of smoke to persons within the area of the tunnel portals - not knowing exactly what is on fire within the train (which may or may not be toxic) - consequently an evacuation order to pedestrians. Persons living near the affected areas have been told to stay indoors, seal up windows and turn off air-conditioners.. The Coast Guard closed portions of Baltimore's harbor as a precaution in the event water runoff from the tunnel should be found to be toxic.. Immediate need is to contain the fire, which will be extremely difficult due to the location of the fire within the tunnel.. The Howard Street Tunnel - single-track and nearly two miles in length - is CSXT's only route through Baltimore. The west portal is near Camden Station, and the east portal is at the former Mount Royal Station (now owned by the Maryland Institute College of Art). The tunnel runs south to north beneath Howard Street and carries traffic on a geographically southwest to northeast route through the city.. As of 11 PM: The fire is still burning within the tunnel, white smoke is still coming from the east portal, and it is not certain exactly what is burning. However, the state department of the environment has determined that air tested within the affected outside areas near the tunnel portals is not toxic. Testing did reveal the presence of wood ash within the smoke, possibly caused by burning crossties as a byproduct of the fire.. Meanwhile, a 40-inch water main at Howard and Lombard streets ruptured. It is not known if the water main break is related to the fire, but this is the location within the tunnel below with space for a short stub-track and mini-station (never used) that at one time had access to the street above. It is speculated that heat from the fire may have caused the water main to break.. Maryland MTA has announced that the city's light-rail line along Howard Street will be replaced by alternate bus service tomorrow, and MARC Camden Line trains will originate at Dorsey instead of Camden Station. Amtrak and MARC Penn Line trains, once again, are not affected.
THURSDAY, JULY 19, AS OF 9 AM: The fire is still burning within the tunnel and fire fighters are still unable to attack the fire directly, but the heat and smoke has diminished to the point that entry into the tunnel had been made by workers who began moving some of the railroad cars from the tunnel. It was determined that three cars had derailed and one of the burning cars was a load of lumber. It was also determined that a load of acid had leached but the acid was not burning. Air quality samples taken in the affected outside vicinities revealed no adverse toxicity.. The City of Baltimore issued a liberal leave policy for employees, as did the State of Maryland for its employees at State Center.. Howard Street above the tunnel remains closed between Pratt Street and Mount Royal Avenue.. The baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Baltimore Orioles at 1PM was canceled; later it was decided to cancel the 7PM game as well.. Traffic into the Baltimore area in the morning was reported somewhat light, as many people heeded advice to remain home rather than to venture into the downtown area.. The fire continued to burn throughout the day, and Howard Street between Pratt Street and Mount Royal Avenue remains closed. Traffic is not even permitted to cross Howard Street between east and west, effectively slicing the city in half for a distance of about a mile.. It was further reported that a fiber-optic line within the tunnel had been damaged by the fire, and this has disrupted some communications - including internet connections - along the Eastern Seaboard and beyond..
FRIDAY, JULY 20, AS OF 4 PM: Fire is still burning in the tunnel. Howard Street is still closed between Pratt Street and Mount Royal Avenue, with traffic described by news reports within the city as "gridlocked" due to the inability to cross Howard Street along this mile-long north-south corridor.. The July 20 edition of the Baltimore Sun reported that at one time, temperatures within the tunnel had reached 1500 degrees (but there were later estimates of 1000 degrees).. There was a baseball game between the Anaheim Angels and the Baltimore Orioles scheduled for 7 PM at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and a decision was made to postpone the game. This is the fourth game in three days to be postponed due to the effects of the tunnel incident.. Firefighters had decided to approach the fire by way of a manhole connecting the street with the tunnel at Howard and Lombard streets, near the scene of Wednesday's water main rupture occurring near the site of the old mini-station.. Air monitoring samples in the neighborhoods near the tunnel portals continue to show no toxicity levels. Meanwhile, this afternoon, four emergency workers (two of whom were from CSX), were rescued by engine (5003) from the eastern end of the tunnel when at least one of the workers complained of running short of his supply of oxygen.. Baltimore Division general manager Gil Kovar, interviewed on radio, reported that this was the worst train incident he had ever experienced, describing it as "just short" of a worst case scenario. He added that the "buddy system" was in place for workers within the tunnel, usually sticking together as groups of seven or eight or more. AS OF 9 PM: It has been announced that 13 cars had been removed from the tunnel, leaving 47 cars remaining. Earlier in the day it was decided to take a cautious approach in removing the cars - in cuts of about six at a time, of those that had not derailed - in the interest of safety.
SATURDAY, JULY 21, AS OF 6 AM: A total of 49 cars have now been removed from the tunnel, leaving 11 cars remaining. Two are still burning.. AS OF 10 PM: All of the hazardous material cars have reportedly been removed from the tunnel, but four cars remain, including those on fire. An attempt will be made to remove those cars tonight or tomorrow (carefully) as it was felt that the fire department could be in a better position to extinguish the flames if the cars involved are in the open.. Meanwhile, the baseball game between the Anaheim Angels and the Baltimore Orioles was played - the first game to be played since the accident - in spite of the fact that Howard Street is still closed between Mount Royal Avenue and Pratt Street. (The stadium is located beginning in the second block south of Pratt Street.) Interestingly, this evening's game was "Fire Fighters' Appreciation Night," a coincidence since this commemoration had been planned for this particular game long before the derailment occurred. Two games are scheduled for tomorrow [July 22].. Meanwhile, the broken water main at Howard and Lombard streets has yet to be repaired; crews are awaiting the removal of the cars that are still on fire within the tunnel.
SUNDAY, JULY 22, AS OF 12 NOON: There are still four cars remaining in the tunnel. Plans are to remove these cars - one at a time - a process reportedly expected to take four hours per car, or 16 hours altogether. Officials, however, say they may delay this process during baseball games scheduled for 1 PM and 7 PM respectively at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which is not far from the west (geographically south) end of the tunnel.. Howard Street above the tunnel remains closed between Mount Royal Avenue and Pratt Street.. Work is also expected to proceed to shut off water to the broken water main at Howard and Lombard streets, a process which will suspend water service to a section of downtown along nearby Paca Street - but not affecting the baseball games.. Commuters into the city tomorrow [July 23] are being advised to expect a number of detours, but there are tentative plans to permit access across Howard Street at some locations.. AS OF 6 PM: Only two cars remain in the tunnel. Both are smoldering. Baltimore's mayor along with television crews ventured into the tunnel for a first-hand look.. Repairs to the broken water main, plus a collapsed storm drain, will begin once the remaining cars are removed. This will further delay resumption of light-rail service along Howard Street above the tunnel, as a portion of the light-rail line's track will have to be cut to access the affected water main and storm drain.. AS OF 11 PM: Only one car remains to be removed from the tunnel, and this is expected to be done overnight or early in the morning.
MONDAY, JULY 23, AS OF 9 AM: The final car has been removed from the tunnel. It happened this morning. Work can now begin to assess the structural integrity of the tunnel and to repair both the broken water main and collapsed storm drain.. Howard Street above the tunnel remains closed for about a mile between Mount Royal Avenue and Pratt Street, and east-west traffic is not allowed across Howard Street.. Commuters were encouraged to use the Metro, the city's only subway line, which passes below the affected area in its own separate tunnel.. There is a baseball game today at 12 noon, and this will add to the traffic problems downtown.. AS OF 6 PM, it was reported that MARC train service on the Camden Line will originate from Camden Station beginning tomorrow.
TUESDAY, JULY 24, AS OF 11 AM: Some sense of normalcy has returned to Baltimore. All of the east-west streets across Howard Street - except for Lombard Street - have been reopened to traffic. The light-rail line along Howard Street is still out of service.. CSXT has rebuilt its track through the tunnel. Earlier today it ran its first train - called a "test train" in news reports - at reduced speed, and regular service is expected to resume later today.. Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board is working with the city and the railroad in an attempt to find a cause to the July 18 accident. In this regard, it has long been assumed that the water main break at Howard and Lombard streets was caused by the accident and fire. Now there is consideration that it may have been the other way around - to wit: that the water main may have broken first, causing the derailment. This is a theory, not a conclusion. The accident on the 18th occurred about 3:10 PM, and the water main break was not noticed on the surface until about three hours later. Still, it is possible that the surface break had been caused by an earlier fracture below the ground, causing the track to dip or shift. The NTSB is now studying records of water flow and pressure supplied by the city in an effort to determine exactly when the affected system failed. The NTSB cautions that this is just one theory among others being considered, and that it may be several days or longer before there is a conclusion.. Questions have also arisen over the amount of time between the accident and notification to authorities at the onset of the fire. The accident is said to have occurred at about 3:10 PM, but the fire officials say they did not learn about the fire in the tunnel until about an hour afterward.. AS OF 7 PM: A second train has successfully operated through the tunnel. A television news team was invited to ride in the locomotive of this train, and video was shown to viewers on evening newscasts.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 25, AS OF 12 NOON: At a meeting this morning at City Hall, CSX agreed to pay the overtime costs for the fire, police and public works forces relating to the fire. The company said a check will be ready just as soon as the city presents its information and it can be reviewed. "This is not an acknowledgement of blame or fault," said a CSX official. The city has initially estimated the amount involved to be about $1.3-million.. Meanwhile, CSX has been canvassing the business establishments within the affected area to solicit claims for loss of business resulting from the emergency.. The cause of the derailment remains under investigation.. CSXT ran a full-page advertisement in today's edition of the Baltimore Sun entitled "Thanks, Baltimore!" The advertisement, addressed to the citizens of Baltimore, thanked the mayor, fire chief, "the courageous professionals of the Baltimore City Fire Department," and the emergency response personnel for their "tireless efforts, leadership and professionalism" following the derailment. It also thanked the community for its patience and support. "Our roots run deep in Baltimore," the text continued. "America's first railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio, is a part of CSXT. I'm a Baltimore native, and much of my family still lives here. We employ more than 1,000 people in the area and many of our employees across the country continue to have ties here." It was signed by Michael J. Ward, president, and CSX Transportation's 35,000 employees.. Repairs are still being made to the broken water main at Howard and Lombard streets, and work is expected to take another several days..
THURSDAY, JULY 26, AS OF 12 NOON: Repairs are still being made to the broken water main with work still expected to take several days.. The NTSB is taking samples of the rail and water main for metallurgical analysis as part of its ongoing investigation over the cause of the accident.. CSXT said in press reports that about 13 trains had operated through the tunnel yesterday [Wednesday] and by Friday the number should be up to about 22. More than 30 trains use the tunnel each day, according to the same reports.. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun reported this morning that the city's emergency plan, drafted in 1987 to outline procedures in the event of a chemical accident, makes only casual mention of railroads within the city and nothing at all about the Howard Street Tunnel. Only two pages of the 440-page plan are devoted to chemicals spilling on roads or railroads. "It includes no highway or rail maps, no assessment of accident-prone intersections and no list of chemicals traveling through the city or the routes that they take," said the newspaper. "It's not very sophisticated," a hazardous materials transportation expert was quoted as saying, adding, "Nothing in here relates to the worst-case scenario." Still, officials were satisfied with their response to this particular situation, and having relied upon a number of experts who were summoned for advice, the emergency plan, however it was drafted, was not really needed. Fire officials added that although they had not previously had any drills within the Howard Street Tunnel, they had conducted a drill rather recently in one of the city's Amtrak tunnels using a MARC train, as well as drills in a Metro tunnel. These were intended as training exercises in the event of a passenger train accident - not one involving a freight train - but they did acquaint the personnel with the environment of a railroad tunnel. In any event, the incident in the Howard Street Tunnel has now given the personnel far more experience than could ever be accomplished by having a drill.
THE TRAIN INVOLVED IN THE ACCIDENT ON JULY 18 was L41216. It had originated in Hamlet, North Carolina, and was assigned to operate by way of Rocky Mount, Richmond, Baltimore and Philadelphia, to its destination, Oak Island, New Jersey. According to CSXT, the train experienced an undesired emergency air application within the tunnel. The conductor was unable to inspect the train due to the amount of smoke developing within the tunnel, and the locomotive units were then cut away from the train and they proceeded out the east (geographically north) end of the tunnel at Mount Royal. A two-member crew was involved, and neither was injured. The Howard Street Tunnel (named for the street it passes under, constructed 1891-1895) is CSXT's only route through the city of Baltimore. It normally conveys a number of trains operating along the East Coast; trains between the West and points within Baltimore, the northeastern part of Maryland, the states of Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey; and terminal transfer moves between Penn Mary and Bay View yards on the east side of town, and Locust Point, Mount Clare, Mount Winans and Curtis Bay yards on the west side of town. The company said that a number of reroutes had been put in place to bypass the affected area, but these are very long and circuitous. Some trains from the South were detoured by way of Cherry Run and Hagerstown, Maryland, and the Norfolk Southern at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; some trains from the West were detoured by way of Buffalo and Syracuse, or other routes.. Trains regularly using the Howard Street Tunnel include intermodal trains Q133, Q134, Q135, Q136, Q137, Q138, Q173, Q174, Q175 and Q176; automotive trains Q216, Q217, Q276, Q296 and Q297; merchandise trains Q346, Q368, Q375, Q405, Q406, Q409, Q410, and L412; Tropicana Juice trains, and others. According to CSXT, more than 100 trains were rerouted over six days, about one-third being handled by Norfolk Southern.
Chemical from derailment may have caused explosions 3 weeks later...
SATURDAY, AUGUST 11, 2001.. At approximately 6AM, there was an explosion within an underground sewer at the intersection of Pratt and Light streets at Harborplace in downtown Baltimore, causing a 300-pound manhole cover to fly about four feet into the air. Two additional explosions followed in short order. There were no injuries. It was soon determined by analysis that the source of the explosions was tripropylene - a heavier-than-air chemical that floats on water - which had somehow found its way into the city's sewer system. There were three more explosions at about 5PM the same day.. Tripropylene, which has a very low flash point, is one of the type of chemicals that had leached from a railroad tank car in the July 18 CSXT derailment and fire in the Howard Street Tunnel. It had rained August 10, the day before the explosions - officially 64/100 of an inch - and this was the first substantial rainfall since the July 18 tunnel accident. It was theorized that the chemical from the derailment may have remained dormant within the sewer system until the rain runoff caused it to course its way to the site of the explosions. Initially, officials from the city's department of public works dismissed this theory by advising that the runoff system from the Howard Street Tunnel was separate from the city's storm drain system. But on Sunday, August 12, the day following the explosions, CSX officials reported that its engineering records reveal that the two systems do in fact conjoin at a point about 600 to 700 feet south of the intersection of Howard and Lombard streets. The Howard and Lombard intersection was the point within the tunnel below the intersection that the July 18 derailment had occurred, about four blocks upstream from the site of the August 11 explosions.. As part of the cleanup effort following removal of cars from the tunnel in July, soil tests conducted at the site of the derailment revealed no trace of the substance.. Meanwhile, city firefighters had responded to several complaints about noxious fumes in the Harborplace area prior to the August 11 explosions, but had found no dangerous readings.. Puzzling, too, was that literally millions of gallons of water - both from the fire-fighting effort and the runoff from the breached water main at the site of the derailment - had gone through presumably the same sewer system continuously for several days following the July 18 accident. Still, it could not be ruled out that the chemical causing the August 11 explosion was the same chemical that had leaked from the tank car.. Following the explosions, city crews, working through the night, used a boom and absorbent pads to contain and collect about 1000 gallons of the chemical from the sewer system.
AS OF TUESDAY, AUGUST 14, CSX says it will install two monitoring wells within the base of the tunnel - one at the site below Howard and Lombard streets, and one at the south end of the tunnel - to determine if the chemical could have originated from within the tunnel and to search for any remaining residue. An earlier proposal to pump fluorescent die into the system was scrapped because "it would have been too complicated to replicate the tunnel fire scenario," according to city officials. Additionally, a pure sample of the chemical from within the leaking tank car will be matched with a sample taken following the August 11 explosions to see if the samples indicate a definite match.. Meanwhile, it has been reported that another manhole cover at the intersection of Pratt and Light streets, site of the explosions, had popped loose the previous evening (August 10) damaging a passing car. Authorities are uncertain if this event is related to the August 11 explosions, and they reported no evidence of toxicity following that particular incident. The driver of the car, however, reportedly said that he smelled something unusual immediately afterward.
AS OF WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 15, it was reported that the city had revised its estimate of the amount of tripropylene that had been recovered from the sewer system to 2200 gallons. Previously it had been said that 1000 gallons had been recovered. According to press reports, the tank car that ruptured in the July 18 derailment originally contained 18,000 gallons of the chemical. Much of this had burned off in the five-day fire; it being assumed at the time that all that had escaped from the car had been consumed by the fire.. Meanwhile, city officials continue to insist that their records show no interconnection between the water runoff system within the Howard Street Tunnel and the city's storm drain system, in spite of the railroad's records that the systems do join each other about 600 to 700 feet south of the intersection of Howard and Lombard streets. It was noted, however, that the city's piping maps are very old. Additionally, a "culvert" that CSX says lies beneath the tunnel's roadbed does not appear on the city's plans either. In the event the systems do not connect - as city records seem to indicate - there is a theory that the affected systems may be corroded and that the chemicals may have leached from one system into the other. Public works officials plan to put a television camera into the Pratt Street sewer line to seek an answer as to how the chemical may have entered the pipe, and to look for any broken sections.. While suspicion mounts that the chemical causing the August 11 explosions is residue from the derailment, this is not a foregone conclusion. It could have come from someplace else. But 2200 gallons is a lot of chemical to suddenly appear in the sewer, and a public works official was quoted as saying that it would be "a heck of a coincidence" if that amount of tripropylene were to have come from an unrelated spill.. As part of its ongoing investigation, city workers throughout the day removed manhole covers along the length of the suspected trail of the chemical's flow in search of further residue. Later in the day, officials reported some more tripropylene - "a very small amount" - was removed from two conduits near the scene of the August 11 explosions.. It might require further rainstorms to completely flush the system, presumably with additional testing for chemicals after each storm.
AS OF FRIDAY, AUGUST 17, city public works officials report that they ran a video camera through the pipe beneath the Howard Street Tunnel and they found the pipe to be in "very good condition." The officials added that "normal groundwater infiltration" was found at the joints, and they say tripropylene "could have entered there," according to a news report.
THE TRAIN INVOLVED IN THE ACCIDENT ON JULY 18 was L41216.. CSXT reopened the Howard Street Tunnel to train traffic, on a limited basis, on July 24, with mostly-regular schedules resuming on July 27. About 30 trains normally use the tunnel each day, according to CSXT.. As to the intersection of Howard and Lombard streets, it remains closed to traffic following the water main break of July 18. The water main has been repaired, but substantial work remains to rebuild the street. This is expected to continue until about Labor Day.. Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board is conducting metallurgical analysis of sections of the affected rail and water main in an effort to determine probable cause of the derailment. While it had been initially assumed that the water main had broken as a result of the derailment, it has not been ruled out that the water main might have broken first, causing the derailment to happen.
Updates . . .
DECEMBER 4, 2002.. The National Transportation Safety Board issued an interim report stating that there is still no conclusion on the cause of the accident. The Army Corps of Engineers has been conducting tests of the area surrounding the point of the accident in an attempt to determine which occurred first - the derailment (causing the water main to break), or the water main break (causing the derailment). According to a news report, it may be a year before a final report is made.
JULY 12, 2004.. The Connecticut-based insurer for the Baltimore Orioles is attempting to recover more than $1-million in damages after a train derailment and tunnel fire forced city officials to cancel three home games in July 2001, according to the Associated Press. The Hartford Casualty Insurance Co. on Monday [July 12] sued CSX Transportation Inc. and the city of Baltimore for the loss of revenue from ticket and concession sales. The suit charges CSX with negligence in the inspection and maintenance of the company's tracks and the tunnel. It charges the city with negligence in the inspection and maintenance of municipal water lines in and around the tunnel. Both lapses, the insurance company contends, contributed to the accident. Eleven cars of a 60-car train, including tankers containing toxic acids, derailed inside the Howard Street tunnel, which runs under the city's central business district. The resulting chemical fire shut down the city for several days, causing millions of dollars in damages to downtown businesses and to the city, which paid overtime for emergency crews and cleanup. The National Transportation Safety Board has yet to report on a cause of the accident. One issue in contention is whether water and debris from a 40-inch water main caused the accident - as CSX contends - or was a result of the accident, which is alleged by the city. [United Transportation Union, 7-14-04, from report by Associated Press]
JANUARY 5, 2005.. Federal transportation officials said that the most likely scenario behind the 2001 train derailment and fire in Baltimore's Howard Street Tunnel "involved an obstruction between a car wheel and the rail, in combination with changes in track geometry, " according to this Baltimore Sun report by Lynn Anderson. In letters to Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and CSX President Michael J. Ward, National Transportation Safety Board officials acknowledged that they could find no "convincing evidence to provide a probable cause for the accident," forcing them to settle on a "most likely scenario" as they seek the cause of the multiday underground fire and flood that resulted in at least $10-million in damage. The findings, however preliminary, are sure to be seized upon as lawyers fight later this year over the multimillion-dollar question of fault in the derailment. The letters from the NTSB rebuked railroad officials for failing to keep adequate maintenance records and criticized city officials for incomplete emergency planning. The board blamed both entities for poor communications and issued a series of safety recommendations that board Chairwoman Ellen Engleman Conners said should prevent future accidents. "We ... urge you to take action on the safety recommendations," Engleman Conners said in the letters sent January 5. "The Safety Board is vitally interested in these recommendations because they are designed to prevent accidents and save lives." The board urged the railroad to keep better records of inspections and maintenance activities at the Howard Street tunnel, and asked the city to include more detailed information about responding to tunnel emergencies in its Hazardous Materials Action Plan. It was recommended that both entities do a better job of sharing pertinent information. The rail accident occurred at about 3 p.m. July 18, 2001, when a CSX freight train partially derailed in the tunnel. Four of the 11 derailed cars were tankers containing flammable and hazardous chemicals. A tanker containing tripropylene, a liquid similar to petroleum, ruptured and the load ignited, creating a red-hot inferno that taxed firefighters and shuttered downtown businesses for days. Only minor injuries were reported. NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said last night that a final report on the accident could be months away. "At this point, that's where the investigation stands," he said, referring to the cause scenario offered in the letters. "There's a chance that we'll know more later, but there's also a chance that we may never know." Meanwhile, city officials rejoiced at the apparent conclusion by NTSB officials in the letters that the accident was not caused by a water main break above the tracks that flooded Howard Street, as some railroad officials had speculated. In their letter to the railroad, NTSB officials called CSX construction and maintenance records "unreliable" and "inadequate." They also reprimanded the railroad for keeping "deficient" tunnel inspection records and failing to share information with the city about track modifications or construction near the tunnel. The board scolded the city for similar lapses. [United Transportation Union, 1-6-05, from Baltimore Sun report by Lynn Anderson]
JANUARY 29, 2005.. The Federal Railroad Administration conducted an emergency inspection during the weekend of the Howard Street Tunnel - site of a 2001 derailment and fire in downtown Baltimore - but found no serious safety problems. The inspection was prompted by a complaint from the [Mayor] O'Malley administration, which asked the federal agency last week to look into what it called conditions "that may lead to another train derailment." The agency dispatched three inspectors to examine the tunnel Saturday [Jan.29] , officials confirmed. Robert Sullivan, a spokesman for tunnel owner CSX Transportation Inc., said the federal inspectors reported finding one minor problem, and it was outside the tunnel. It was fixed immediately, Sullivan said. The railroad administration declined to detail its findings until it has formally notified the city, but spokesman Steve Kulm generally confirmed CSX's account. A lawyer for CSX accused the city of making unjustified allegations in an effort to bolster the lawsuit it has brought against the railroad as a result of the tunnel fire. But City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler dismissed the accusation, saying the city's request for an inspection was made "for purely safety reasons." Tyler said that as of Wednesday night, the city had yet to hear from the federal agency. The inspection was prompted by a Jan. 26 letter in which Deputy City Solicitor Donald R. Huskey told the Federal Railroad Administration that Baltimore's attorneys and consultants observed "potentially serious" track conditions during an inspection five days earlier. He asked the agency to conduct an immediate walking inspection of the tunnel, where a CSX Corp. train derailment in July 2001 led to a fire and the release of hazardous chemicals. The blaze and chemical spill took days to contain and tied up rail freight traffic all along the East Coast. Huskey wrote that the city's Jan. 21 inspection found "inadequate ballast under and around ties resulting in hanging and unsupported ties and rail." CSX lawyer Heidi K. Hubbard responded in a letter to the railroad administration Monday, charging that the city sought the inspection "in an apparent attempt to help its litigation posture." Hubbard characterized the city's report of ballast problems as a "bald allegation" backed by no evidence or documentation. The city's inspectors said nothing to the CSX employees who accompanied them about the condition of the tunnel, "as one would expect if the city truly believed an emergency situation existed," Hubbard wrote. Tyler said Wednesday that when the city's representatives saw things in the tunnel that raised concerns, the best course was to seek an independent inspection by government experts. Last summer, the city filed a lawsuit seeking $10-million in damages for the costs of fighting the fire and repairing a broken water main behind the tunnel wall. Baltimore's suit claims the derailment ignited a fire that caused the water main to burst, causing flooding streets and knocking out electrical and telecommunications systems. CSX contended the water main break was most likely the cause of the derailment, but that argument was rejected by the National Transportation Safety Board in its final report on the derailment last month. "The NTSB said the water main broke hours after the derailment," Tyler said. The board said it could not definitively identify the cause of the derailment, but said the most likely explanation "involved an obstruction between a car wheel and the rail" along with "changes in track geometry." Hubbard's letter indicated that CSX is not backing away from its water main theory, referring to "growing evidence of problems with the city water system in the vicinity of the tunnel." [Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, 2-3-05, from report by Michael Dresser on the Baltimore Sun website]
APRIL 13, 2005: Officials for Baltimore and CSX Corp. report that they have put in place the safety recommendations sought by federal transportation officials after their investigation of the 2001 train derailment and fire in a Baltimore tunnel, according to the WBAL website. Responding to changes urged in January by the National Transportation Safety Board, the city reported Tuesday [April 12] that it is communicating better with CSX and is more prepared for an emergency situation in a tunnel. A CSX freight train derailed in the Howard Street Tunnel on July 18, 2001. Four of the 11 cars that derailed were tankers carrying flammable and hazardous chemicals. One of them ruptured, igniting a fire which created an inferno in the tunnel that paralyzed the downtown for days. Tuesday was Baltimore's deadline to respond to the NTSB. Fire Department Chief William Goodwin Jr. sent NTSB Chairwoman Ellen Engleman Conners a letter detailing Baltimore's improvement efforts. Though the Fire Department has not trained in the tunnel since the fire because of "transportation needs," Goodwin said the department has developed a PowerPoint training presentation on lessons learned. The department has more equipment to help crews breathe in a tunnel fire environment and more people trained to use it than four years ago. And since the fire, the city has increased its number of certified hazardous materials technicians from 25 to 51, Goodwin wrote. "We take the recommendations very seriously because of our concern for the public," said Donald Huskey, Baltimore's deputy solicitor. The NTSB also criticized CSX for failing to keep adequate maintenance records. Responding for CSX, C. Wayne Workman, the railroad company's general manager for train accident prevention, wrote of improvements to its inspections and record-keeping "although," Workman said, "we do not agree with the assertions" of the NTSB. Though the NTSB scolded the city and CSX for communications failings with each other, both parties pledged to improve in their response letters, but pointed fingers at each other for falling short. "CSXT strongly supports the need for greater communication by the City of Baltimore directly with CSXT, particularly when the City of Baltimore is experiencing infrastructure problems ... that have the potential to affect the Tunnel," Workman wrote in a letter sent to the NTSB last week. Baltimore officials noted in their letter that CSX has not responded to the city's request that the company alert them when trains carrying hazardous material are traveling through tunnels. Baltimore has sued CSX to recover damages caused by the accident, which could be as much as $12-million. An NTSB investigation into the accident was unable to settle on a cause. [United Transportation Union, 4-13-05, from WBAL website report]
JUNE 10, 2005: Railroad workers still have safety concerns over a Baltimore tunnel almost four years after a train carrying hazardous materials derailed and caught fire. At a U.S. Mayor's Conference event in Chicago June 10, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley addressed his concerns about hazardous materials rail transports. Last month, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., overturned a lower court's ruling that upheld that city's new law restricting such rail transports. A 2001 derailment in the Howard Street tunnel shut down Baltimore as an ensuing fire burned inside for days. O'Malley has since appealed to CSX, asking the company to provide advanced daily notice of the contents of freight trains traveling through local jurisdictions. According to the mayor's press office, CSX refused, citing security issues and concerns that could be a cumbersome task. WBAL-TV 11 News I-Team reporter David Collins reported Baltimore City fire officials believe advanced notice of hazmats would have been helpful when, in July 2001, four train cars carrying hazardous and flammable chemicals derailed inside the Howard Street tunnel. City and CSX officials have since implemented federally-mandated safety recommendations. But the 11 News I-Team has learned that many CSX conductors continue to have reservations about traveling through the tunnel. United Transportation Union officials confirmed that workers have filed complaints daily using a form called a PI-82, which is passed on to CSX. The complaints have included concerns over water leaks, communication blackouts and a lack of an escape route if trouble develops, Collins reported. "Everyone is reluctant to go through the tunnel," said a railroad employee, whose identity the 11 News I-Team agreed to conceal. The employee cited an ongoing water leak reportedly coming from the same area where a water main broke above the 2001 derailment. "It makes you nervous about rails and spikes coming loose and the potential for something else to happen," the employee said. In 2001, the derailment revealed serious communication problems - such issues the rail employee contends still exist. "The conductor has to get above ground; his handset is pretty bad in the tunnel," the employee said. According to the employee, conductors cannot refuse to travel through the tunnel if they want to keep their job. "You are refusing duties; you can get into trouble. Everyone is reluctant to go through the tunnel," the employee said. CSX officials said they have not received these complaints, nor have such complaints arisen at safety meetings attended by CSX management. Collins said CSX further maintains that the tunnel conditions are safe and that inspectors traverse the tunnel twice a week. [Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, 6-10-05, from WBAL channel 11 website report]
NOVEMBER 30, 2005: A U.S. study commissioned after the 2001 Howard Street Tunnel fire recommends an overhaul of the city's convoluted passenger and freight systems, saying it is the only way to fix a network vital to the country's transportation grid. The network is so antiquated, the report says,that one tunnel was completed eight years after the Civil War ended. The $1-million study was conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration at the request of Congress after the train derailment in which a CSX freight train partially derailed in the Howard Street Tunnel. Lawmakers wanted to study the possibility of eliminating all through freight service from the Howard Street Tunnel, which is owned by CSX Transportation, and replacing the 140-year-old Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel, owned by Amtrak. The federal study recommended several plans that would change the city's transportation network with a series of new tunnels, many west of downtown. In a letter to the rail administration, state Department of Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan called the study a good step, but said the report neglected to examine other alternatives, such as routing freight and passenger trains along Interstate 95. On Nov.29, Flanagan said the state had secured $3-million in July in federal transportation funds that it will use to study other proposals. The study recommends separating the city's freight and passenger railway lines, which are intertwined at many points, though run by different companies. Of the passenger train alternatives explored, the report points to the construction of a great-circle passenger tunnel as the most promising. Its portals would be close to the B&P tunnel, west of Pennsylvania Station. The configuration would allow for faster trains, the report concludes. It would cost about $500-million. For freight service, the report reviewed land and underwater alternatives, opting for two great-circle freight tunnels similar to the passenger tunnel. The report also looked at constructing freight tunnels under Baltimore's harbor, but noted that such plans are three times as expensive as land tunnels and include additional challenges, such as channel depth and limits on length. A spokeswoman for Mayor Martin O'Malley (D), who has repeatedly raised concerns about the safety of the tunnel system, said the city welcomed the recommendations. "We welcome any improvements along the lines that would improve safety and capacity," said Raquel Guillory. "Ever since the Howard Street fire, we've had some serious concerns about the safety of the tunnels and rail lines. But unfortunately our hands are tied. There's not much we can do about that." [Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, 11-30-05, from Associated Press article]
FEB 13. 2006: Four and a half years after a derailment and fire in the Howard Street tunnel created havoc in downtown Baltimore, the city and CSX Transportation have reached a settlement in a federal lawsuit against the railroad company. Mayor Martin O'Malley and CSX Chief Executive Michael Ward announced Febr.13 that the railroad will pay $2-million to defray the city's costs from the fire without either side admitting fault in the July 2001 accident. Other provisions of the agreement will require more sharing of information by the city and the company, including police radio transmissions and images from security cameras in the tunnels. The railroad also agreed to share more information about shipping patterns and the movement of hazardous cargo through the city. Baltimore and CSX also agreed to jointly request an inspection of the tunnel by federal and state agencies. The railroad agreed to perform any repairs that might be required by regulators. [United Transportation Union, 2-13-06, from Baltimore Sun report by Michael Dresser and Associated Press]