NTSB: Fractured rail caused deadly train crash in Ellicott City

A worn rail fracture caused the train accident in Ellicott City that killed two young girls, according to the final report released by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Rose Mayr and Elizabeth Nass, both graduates of Mount Hebron High School were sitting on the bridge that carried the train above Ellicott City’s historic Main Street when the train was derailed.

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While the girls were in a dangerous location, they didn't contribute to the train's derailment in anyway.

The two girls were crushed under the weight of coal that spilled from the train.

The report recommends that CSX and all rail companies do more to keep up track maintenance.

It also recommends a “rail failure prevention program,” that establishes better plans to address broken rails and keep a better record of problem areas.

The NTSB plans to host a public forum next year to discuss the dangers of entering a railroad right-of-way.

The full report from NTSB:

The derailment of a CSX coal train on a railroad bridge in Ellicott City, Md., on August 20, 2012 was caused by a broken rail with evidence of rolling contact fatigue, the National Transportation Board said today.

Tragically, two people who were sitting on a CSX bridge were killed when coal spilled out of the rail cars during the derailment, which occurred shortly before midnight in downtown Ellicott City. The presence in the rail right-of-way of the two fatally injured persons, whose unauthorized access placed them in harm's way, did not contribute to the derailment in any way.

Of the 80 cars in the train, the first 21 derailed, with seven falling into a parking lot below the track. The train had been traveling 23 m.p.h. -- below the speed limit for that section of track.

The NTSB investigation found that the point of derailment was a rail fracture several hundred feet before the bridge. The section of rail, which was examined in the NTSB's materials laboratory in Washington, showed evidence of rolling contact fatigue, a gradual breakdown of the rail-head surface.

As a result of this and earlier accidents investigated by the NTSB, the Federal Railroad Administration established a Rail Failure Working Group to study the effects of rail-head wear and resulting rail surface conditions. Its recommendations were adopted by the Rail Safety Advisory Committee in April.

According to Operation Lifesaver, 476 pedestrian rail trespass fatalities occurred nationwide in 2013. After the Ellicott City derailment, CSX installed a chain-link fence along the right-of-way downtown in an attempt to deter future trespassing on the Ellicott City railroad bridge.

The NTSB will also hold a public forum next year to explore and educate the public about the dangers associated with unauthorized individuals in the railroad right-of-way.

The full accident brief is available at: http://go.usa.gov/Na7J

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