- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

An Amtrak train carrying more than 170 people derailed in Kensington, Md., yesterday, injuring at least 97 and sending several of the train's double-decker cars careering down an embankment.
The Capitol Limited which connects Chicago, Pittsburgh and Washington jumped the tracks at approximately 1:55 p.m. near Connecticut Avenue, about 12 miles north of Union Station. Fire and rescue workers rushed to help evacuate the 161 passengers and 12 crew members said to be aboard.
Ninety-seven passengers six of whom were critically injured were taken to hospitals, police said.
The derailment tied up road and rail traffic. Minutes after the accident, police closed off all roads leading to the 4100 block of Plyers Mill Road near Connecticut Avenue, where the accident happened. Service on the Brunswick line of the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) trains which share tracks with the Capitol Limited as it approaches Union Station was halted, lengthening the rush-hour commute.
The derailment occurred shortly after the Capitol Limited had rounded a corner on a section of track near the Kensington station. The tracks are owned and operated by CSX Corp. Dan Murphy, a CSX spokesman, said the section of track was last inspected visually Sunday.
Carol Carmody, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said yesterday evening the NTSB was taking over the investigation and studying track-maintenance history and the handling of the evacuation, among other things.
"We'll interview crew and witnesses; we'll begin interviewing engineers tomorrow," she said, adding the investigation would take eight to 10 months.
The NTSB would not say whether excessive heat was a factor.
When the track reaches temperatures above 100 degrees, it can buckle, said Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the NTSB.
"This is a heavily used line by both freight and passengers. When the tracks get up over 100 degrees, you have things called heat kinks. You have to watch your track very carefully," he said.
Temperatures were in the mid-90s yesterday.
Last night, NTSB officials said several cars at the end of the train could be moved, according to a source close to the investigation. Most of the derailed cars will have to stay in place, but officials did not know for how long. One crane operator said he expected to be there all night.
"It's important to do this right. We are as concerned as anyone to find out why this happened," said CSX spokeswoman Kathy Burns, adding that top company officials will arrive today from Jacksonville, Fla., to inspect the site.
Passengers aboard the derailed train said it appeared the conductor was making repeated attempts to stop in the seconds before the derailment.
The train consisted of two engines and 13 passenger cars, according to Amtrak officials, who said preliminary reports indicated that 11 of the cars derailed. The train left Chicago at 7 p.m. Sunday with about 190 passengers and a crew of 12, Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Van Veen said.
Yesterday afternoon, a row of double-decker superliner passenger cars could be seen lying on their sides between the tracks and trees along the route.
Nearby businesses scrambled to provide water to some 200 rescue workers.
Darrell Fenton, assistant manager at a Safeway about 300 yards from the scene, said at about 3 p.m. he was "loading up my pickup truck right now with cases and cases of water. It's brutal [heat] out there."
MARC passengers were directed to use the Metro, where their MARC passes were honored yesterday and will be again today. MARC officials were running shuttle buses from Shady Grove station on Metro's Red Line, MARC spokesman Frank Fulton, said.
Buses were waiting "to take the MARC riders to all of the stations along the Brunswick line, even all the way out to Martinsburg, West Virginia, and to Frederick city stations," Mr. Fulton said.
Hospitals were placed on disaster alert after the crash, and police closed streets around the crash to keep away onlookers.
At Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Montgomery County's designated trauma center, officials said three passengers had arrived in the hours after the crash. A fourth passenger was said to be arriving by helicopter.
Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, the closest one to the scene, received 35 passengers from the crash, officials there said. Three of the patients arrived by ambulance and 32 by bus. Doctors said all of the passengers were in stable condition.
Yesterday's derailment was not the first time the Capitol Limited train has crashed just outside the District. In 1996, the Amtrak train collided with a MARC train in Silver Spring, killing three crew members and eight passengers on the MARC train.
The high-speed collision happened during a snowstorm while the Capitol Limited, which had just left Washington, was returning to its assigned track after attempting to bypass a stopped freight train. The Capitol Limited rammed the MARC train, which was traveling at 60 mph on its way from Brunswick to Union Station.
Tom Ramstack and Margie Hyslop contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.


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