City to file suit against CSX in '01 derailment

Action claims the railroad is responsible for accident

$10 million sought to cover costs

Vigorous defense vowed

NTSB probe still not done

July 16, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

The city of Baltimore plans to file a lawsuit today against CSX Corp., claiming that the railroad was responsible for the July 18, 2001, derailment of a chemical-bearing train that burned for five days under downtown streets, closed businesses and disrupted baseball games.

The suit will seek $10 million to cover the cost of fighting the fire, repairing a broken water main and otherwise responding to the emergency, on top of the $374,000 CSX has paid.

"The city's taxpayers should not bear the burden of costs that rightfully reside with CSX, the party whose actions and inactions caused the derailment and ensuing fire and water main break," City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler said in a memo summarizing the lawsuit for Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Tyler confirmed plans to file suit in city Circuit Court, but declined to comment further. O'Malley's office said he would hold a news conference at 11 a.m. today.

The suit is one of several filed in recent weeks against CSX and, in some cases, the city, as the three-year statute of limitations for claims related to the disaster nears. Because the third anniversary of the crash is Sunday, the deadline is Monday.

The suit comes before the National Transportation Safety Board has completed its investigation. The inquiry, not expected to be completed for months, might never determine what caused the derailment because evidence was consumed in the fire, experts have said.

"We will review these complaints and plan to defend them vigorously," said Misty Skipper, a spokeswoman for Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX. "In the meantime, we continue to work with the National Transportation Safety Board in its investigation of the derailment and fire that occurred in the Howard Street Tunnel on July 18, 2001."

The city contends that the train derailment sparked a fire that caused a water main behind the tunnel wall to burst, flooding streets and buildings and knocking out electrical and telecommunications systems. CSX says it was the other way around, with the water main break causing the derailment.

In a preliminary report released last July, the NTSB described "chronic water infiltration" in the tunnel that loosened bricks and mortar and could have contributed to the crash.

"To date, we have not seen evidence of a rail-related cause of the derailment," Skipper said.

In its lawsuit, the city intends to provide records of water flow in the reservoir feeding the Howard Street water main. The records show that the flow held steady at about 10 million gallons an hour in the first hours after the 3:07 p.m. derailment. About 6:30 p.m., the flow shot up to about 17 million gallons.

This week, the insurance companies for Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Maryland Institute College of Art filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court.

The Orioles, which had to cancel several games, lost more than $1 million in ticket and concession sales, while the school suffered water, smoke and other property damage amounting to more than $100,000, the suit says. The Hartford Casualty Insurance Co. and the Hartford Insurance Co. of the Midwest are suing CSX and the city to recoup payments made to the team and art school to cover those losses.

The lawsuit blames CSX's "negligent and careless" maintenance of its tracks and trains, and the city's "negligent and careless" maintenance of its water system.

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