Five days after a 60-car freight train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed and caught fire inside a Baltimore tunnel, crippling the city and East Coast rail traffic, the blaze was extinguished and the last car removed yesterday.
The final CSX car emerged from the northern end of the 11/2-mile tunnel under Howard Street at 7:10 a.m., its wood and paper cargo still smoldering. The fire in the tunnel was doused 30 minutes later and public officials shifted their focus to reopening downtown Baltimore to commuter traffic.
“Our first concern is to return the citizens of Baltimore to a state of normalcy. That’s the first and foremost concern,” said Robert Gould, a spokesman for CSX Transportation Inc.
Howard and Lombard streets, main downtown arteries, remained closed to traffic, and a 40-inch water main break that spewed more than 60 million gallons last Wednesday evening was still awaiting repair. The downtown Light Rail line remained closed, as street repairs of a collapsed storm drain required public works officials to cut part of the above tracks, said Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for the Baltimore Department of Public Works.
Yesterday was the first day that Baltimore had not asked its city employees to take liberal leave, and leaders said morning commuters handled the closed streets and full volume of traffic well.
“They seemed willing to deal with the inconvenience because they know in the near future it will be resolved. We have not had any serious complaints from the public,” said Tony White, press secretary for Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley.
The mayor’s office said it is still too early to calculate losses and the costs of restoring the tunnel.
After the last train was brought out of the tunnel, a team of CSX engineers and public works officials conducted a four-hour structural examination of the tunnel to determine how quickly the main downtown thoroughfares could be opened.
Mr. Kocher said he hoped most of the main streets would be opened by this morning, as long as the tunnel was structurally sound.
Mr. Gould said 1,000 feet of new track must be placed before freight trains can pass through the tunnel.
Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board also conducted investigations of the track, trying to identify stress points that might indicate what caused the train derailment. The full investigation will take up to a year, said Keith Holloway, an agency spokesman.
The firefighters who battled the blaze have received heaps of praise, Mr. White said. Twenty Baltimore Orioles players came out to shake hands with the firefighters before Saturday night’s game, and they along with fire officials and the mayor received a lengthy standing ovation during the game.
“[People] seemed to bring an outpouring of good will. They appreciate the hard work of these people,” he said.