Stadium safety at issue in rail crash

Mayor urges CSX to cut traffic during events

November 26, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun reporter

Freight traffic resumed yesterday, a day after the derailment of a dozen CSX cars downtown, and MARC trains are expected to run on schedule today as nearly 30,000 rail commuters return to work.

Federal rail authorities are investigating the accident, in which 12 train cars tumbled off the tracks in the 300 block of Stockholm St. near M&T Bank Stadium. Three of the cars were carrying hazardous materials, but no leaks or injuries were reported. A final report could take several months.

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon said yesterday that she would urge CSX to limit rail traffic during events at M&T Bank Stadium and Camden Yards.

"This is the second major incident involving hazardous materials and CSX," she said. "The fire and police agree that we need more information sharing from CSX. We need to get a commitment to limit the hazmat loads, particularly during events at both stadiums."

Dixon said she plans to meet with department heads and CSX officials this week to "open up some negotiation and agreement to pursue either legal or legislative options to guarantee safety for people of Baltimore."

About 8 a.m. Saturday, a train headed for North Carolina derailed beneath the Ostend Street bridge.

The cars were cleared by Saturday night and freight trains were running on the tracks by 10:30 a.m. yesterday, said Bob Sullivan, a CSX spokesman.

"There was damage of the tracks as result of the derailment," he said. "That was repaired overnight."

There had been no determination of the cause of the derailment, he added.

Rich Solli, a Maryland Transit Administration spokesman, said service disruptions are not expected on MARC trains today.

The Federal Railroad Administration had three inspectors at the accident site Saturday, as cleanup efforts were under way. Its investigation could take months, said Steve Kulm, the agency's spokesman.

"We don't speculate," Kulm said. "We don't guess. We want to do a thorough, accurate investigation. We will have a written investigation in several months."

Some advocates have been lobbying for more restrictions on the transport of hazardous chemicals downtown, especially after the Howard Street Tunnel fire six years ago.

In July 2001, a train carrying toxic chemicals, including the flammable chemical tripropylene, derailed inside the century-old downtown tunnel, triggering a blaze that reached 1,500 degrees and burned for nearly a week. Parts of downtown were evacuated, power lines shut down and businesses closed during that incident, but no one was injured.

"We were lucky nothing was going on," Dixon said, referring to Saturday's derailment near the stadiums. "It ended up being day and night compared to what happened in 2001. But the fact that this is the second time it has happened really concerns me."

After the 2001 incident, several city officials complained that the Jacksonville, Fla.-based freight company was not sharing information. But yesterday, many said communication had improved.

"We didn't have problems communicating with people this time," said city fire Capt. Roman Clark. "All the agencies had representatives at the unified command posts that kept communications line open for decisions to be made."

Dixon concurred. "The notification process went better between the fire, police and CSX," she said.

After the 2001 fire, Baltimore City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. introduced legislation to restrict shipments of some hazardous chemicals through the downtown tunnel. The legislation never made it out of committee. He called Saturday's incident "deja vu all over again."

"I don't think CSX has taken enough measures," he said yesterday. " ... We dodged another bullet."

Early next year, the U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to implement a rule that would require rail carriers to analyze the routes used for hazardous materials and explore alternate ones.

"The basic foundation of the rule is to have railroads choose the safer and more secure routing," said Kulm.

madison.park@baltsun.com

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