Train crash memorials unveiled in Brunswick Nearly 250 pay tribute to Silver Spring victims

September 22, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

BRUNSWICK -- The little town that the railroad built became a living tribute yesterday to the crew and passengers killed in February's fiery Silver Spring train crash -- a group that began its last journey at the historic Brunswick station.

Nearly 250 people gathered outside the century-old Queen Anne-style station house as colleagues of the dead crew members unveiled two memorials to the 11 people who died that snowy night in the collision of a Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) train and an Amtrak passenger train.

"This is a railroading community," said the Rev. Stephen Swift of Brunswick's Grace Episcopal Church, speaking of the turn-of-the-century boomtown along the old Baltimore & Ohio railroad line, once home to the largest freight yard for a single railroad in the country. Many townspeople still work as railroaders today.

"If something happens to anyone up and down that line, it happens to us," Swift said.

Investigators still have not pinpointed the cause of the collision -- the report is expected early next year -- but evidence already released shows lax safety practices may have prevented a quick exit from the burning MARC car and thwarted rescue efforts.

This crash, along with other recent accidents, has prompted a national review of rail safety standards. The Maryland Mass Transit Administration has pledged a $6.5 million upgrade of emergency exits and signs on MARC trains and has promised extensive training for crews and firefighters -- a move that reaches beyond federal requirements.

The Federal Railroad Administration, criticized for not enacting regulations suggested by the National Transportation Safety Board over more than two decades, says it expects new regulations this year.

But the Silver Spring crash, which happened as a group of Job Corps students were heading home for a winter break from their Harpers Ferry job-training center, also prompted another kind of response -- an outpouring from colleagues and strangers.

Engineers and conductors, some of whom worked with engineer Richard Orr, 43, of Glen Burnie; conductor James E. Major Jr., 48, of Linthicum; and assistant conductor James Quillen, 53, of Frederick, decided days after the crash they wanted a lasting memorial. Just as quickly, passengers flooded victims' families with letters, even money.

Colleagues and their wives formed a committee and took collections onboard trains. Local businesses pledged support. And within months, the group had raised $7,000 to pay for labor and materials to create two monuments placed outside the station.

One is a stone made of African jet black granite, nearly 4 feet high and 2 feet wide, engraved with the likeness of each crew member's face on one side and on the other the words, "In memory of the eight Harper's Ferry Job Corps students who also perished in this tragedy."

Next to that memorial stands a glass-encased brass train bell donated by the Maryland Transportation Authority -- similar to the one used aboard the ill-fated car. A plaque states, "for Ricky, Jimmy and Jim."

As time goes by and a new generation rides the trains, conductor Russell Bly, told the group, his voice cracking with emotion: "They will see the stone and ask, 'Who were these men?' And they can be told, 'They were men who worked hard, and to their friends, they were heroes.' "

Under brilliant skies, and watched by the crowd of rail workers, the victims' families, politicians and passengers, Swift blessed the stone and conductor Jack Phillips rang the bell as the name of each victim was read.

As if to pay respects, two trains rumbled by during the ceremony, a CSX Transportation freight train and an Amtrak passenger train, its horn sounding.

The Harpers Ferry Job Corps choir sang a tribute, and student Tara Simmons, 19, broke down in tears as organizers read letters from the families of victims, including Baltimoreans Carlos M. Byrd, 18, who was remembered for his love of life and his pets.

The mother of student Dante A. Swain, 18, of Baltimore wrote of how she always knew Dante was coming home because she could hear the basketball bouncing.

"It brought back memories of when all of us were sitting around in the rec hall watching TV and hoping they were OK," Simmons said.

Victims from the Job Corps group also include Michael Woodson, 16, of Philadelphia; Lakeisha Marshall, 17 of Capitol Heights; Karis Rudder, 17 of Elmhurst, N.Y.; Thomas Loatman, 23, of Vienna, Va; Claudius Kessoon, 20, of Landover; and Diane Hanvichid, 17, of Woodbridge, Va.

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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