Preliminary report shows Ellicott City train derailment set off by break in track

A preliminary report indicates a small section of the track near the railroad bridge in downtown Ellicott City may have set off the train derailment that claimed the lives of two young women in 2012.

On Monday the National Transportation Safety Board released the preliminary report on the August 2012 derailment. Up until now, residents said they were left with a lot of questions about what happened. 

"It was beyond devastating. It was horrible. I mean, we all couldn't imagine how it could happen and what I originally thought was that although the girls were on the outside of the tracks, maybe the engineer for a second thought they were on the tracks and stepped on the break or something freaky like that but apparently that's not what happened," Ellicott City resident, Linda Brown, said.

The report states there was a small break in the rail several hundred feet before the Main Street bridge. Investigators believe that break was the point of derailment.

The track had been reconditioned in May 2012 and inspected by CSX investigators the day before the derailment. At that time, CSX investigators found no defects in the track, bed or rail and ruled they were in line with federal standards.

The derailment claimed the lives of 19-year-old friends Elizabeth Nass and Rose Mayr who were buried under tons of coal the train was carrying.

Matt Heilman, who lives just a few doors down from the Main Street bridge, said the tracks have been blocked off a little better since the derailment but that hasn't stopped everyone from going up there. 

"You'll still see people walking around there, though, people walk their dogs up there sometimes but no, people aren't up there as often now," Heilman said.

The families of the victims are hoping the report offers more answers of what happened to the woman and help prevent future accidents from occurring.

“Our hope is that the investigation will tell us why this derailment occurred and how we can best prevent such a tragedy in the future,” said Sharon Mayr, Rose’s mother, in a statement.

Mark Mayr, Rose’s father added: “I am appalled at the lack of engineering rigor that goes into maintenance decisions. The defect that was discovered and patched the month before was within feet of the Point of Derailment.

“The decision to patch it, defer repair, and continue to operate at rated speed made no allowance for the poor track support caused by fouled ballast, nor the sharp curve and aggressive spirals at that location. CSX or its predecessors have over 180 years of experience running trains over this very spot—that experience was not evident in the maintenance decisions that I read.”

Sue Nass, Elizabeth’s mother, said the report proves that CSX, not the victims, caused the derailment. Eric, Elizabeth’s father, added, they intend to hold CSX fully accountable for the death of the families’ daughters.

“A rail car should not turn over and kill innocent people,” Sue Nass said in a statement.

A full report with the final conclusions could come in the next few weeks.

View the full report here.

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