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The tracks follow the route of the nation’s first commercial railroad between Baltimore and Ellicott City, completed by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1830.

Young people often party in the nearby parking lot and often hang out on the tracks, despite fences around the area.

“It’s just sort of a magnet for teenage high jinks,” said Shelly Wygant of the Howard County Historical Society.

Jim Southworth, investigator in charge for the National Transportation Safety Board, declined to speculate on a possible cause. He said the train was going about 25 miles per hour and was equipped with video recording devices that investigators will review to help them determine what happened.

Mr. Southworth said the train had two locomotives, was 3,000 feet long and weighed 9,000 tons.

About 100 pounds of coal spilled into a tributary of the Patapsco River, a major Maryland waterway that parallels the tracks, said Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman Jay Apperson. He said much more coal lay along the edge of the tributary, raising concerns it could boost the acidity of the water or threaten aquatic life.

CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan said the train was traveling from Grafton, W.Va., to Baltimore.

Associated Press writers Matthew Barakat and Jessica Gresko in Washington and David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md., contributed to this report.