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Investigator: Md. train was going authorized speed
Question of the Day
ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (AP) — A federal investigator said Wednesday that a coal train that derailed in Maryland was going the authorized speed of 25 miles per hour with the engineer-in-training at the controls before the fatal accident.
Investigators were checking videos, track conditions and maintenance records to learn whether two young women sitting on a railroad bridge over the town’s main street contributed to the Monday night crash or if their presence was just a tragic coincidence.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Jim Southworth wouldn’t speculate on the cause of the derailment.
“This is just not the time for any kind of analysis,” he said Wednesday. “This is purely fact-finding.”
So far, investigators have determined the emergency brakes were applied automatically — not by the three-man crew — on Monday around midnight, but they don’t know why the train jumped the tracks.
Southworth said the train’s two locomotives did not derail. Investigators planned to remove the tracks from the crash site and reassemble them in a nearby parking lot for inspection.
Cleanup of area continued Wednesday. Nineteen of the 21 derailed cars had been removed, but it could be another two days before the area is clear for traffic through the narrow historic area. Southworth called the work a “well-orchestrated industrial ballet.”
Tweets and photos from the two 19-year-old college students chronicled some of their final moments together as they enjoyed a summer night together before they were to headed back to school.
“Drinking on top of the Ellicott City sign,” read one tweet. “Looking down on old ec,” read another.
Accompanying photos showed their view from the bridge and their bare feet, one with painted blue toenails, dangling over the edge. “Levitating,” read the tweet.
The women were sitting on the edge of the bridge with their backs to the tracks as the train passed a few feet behind them, Howard County police said, and their bodies were found buried under coal dumped from the train cars. Authorities said they needed to do autopsies before their cause of death could be determined.
The victims were identified as Elizabeth Conway Nass, a student at James Madison University in central Virginia and Rose Louese Mayr, a nursing student at the University of Delaware.
The railroad is easily accessed from the picturesque downtown of Ellicott City, which is about 15 miles west of Baltimore, and generations of young people have played and partied along the tracks.
The original stone bridge was built around 1830, according to Courtney Wilson, executive director of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore. He said it was replaced after an 1868 flood with an iron truss bridge that provided wider lanes for vehicles passing beneath. That structure was replaced around 1930 with the current steel span.
Shelley Wygant of the Howard County Historical Society said the edge of the bridge on which the women sat, facing the Patapsco River, is at least two feet from the single set of railroad tracks. The side of the bridge facing the town has a wider platform, she said.
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