City, CSX say recommended procedures for safety in place

NTSB report urged changes after July 2001 Howard St. Tunnel fire

April 13, 2005|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN STAFF

Baltimore and CSX Corp. officials say they have put in place the safety recommendations demanded by federal transportation officials after their investigation of the 2001 train derailment and fire in a Baltimore tunnel.

Responding to changes urged in January by the National Transportation Safety Board, the city reported yesterday that it is communicating better with CSX and is more prepared for an emergency situation in a tunnel.

A CSX freight train partially 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.

Yesterday -- the city's deadline to respond to the NTSB -- Fire Department Chief William J. 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.

Additionally, 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 R. 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.

"This would greatly assist in the emergency preparedness that can be accomplished before an event such as the Howard Street Tunnel fire occurs," Goodwin wrote.

CSX spokeswoman Misty Skipper said yesterday that the company was unaware of any formal request by the city.

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. The agency said the "most likely derailment scenario involved an obstruction between a wheel and the rail, in combination with changes in track geometry." But the NTSB report said that damage from the chemical fire, flooding from a resulting broken water main and recovery efforts destroyed the evidence needed to determine a cause.

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