- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Freight carrier CSX yesterday ordered Amtrak and commuter services using its rail lines to slow down on days when high temperatures threaten to warp tracks, in response to Monday's derailment in Kensington.

"We have a duty to protect the people that ride on passenger trains on our rail lines," said Alan F. Crown, executive vice president of transportation for CSX, which owns the tracks where the accident occurred. "Until we know more facts about the recent derailment and are able to determine if there is a better solution, we're taking the most conservative course."

The rules, which already apply to freight trains, will go into effect at 1 p.m. today, CSX spokesman Dan Murphy said. The speed limit on the stretch of track where the accident happened normally is 70 mph for passenger trains and 55 mph for freight trains, CSX said.

A heat order issued by CSX on Monday required freight trains, but not passenger trains, to travel 10 miles below the posted speed limit. The speed limit on the stretch of track where the accident happened normally is 70 mph for passenger trains and 55 mph for freight trains, CSX said.

Under the new policy, passenger trains will not be allowed to travel faster than freight trains when heat orders are in effect. For example, the Amtrak train would have been limited to 45 mph on Monday if the new rules had been in effect.

An Amtrak passenger train en route from Chicago to the District rode off the tracks Monday near the 4100 block of Plyers Mill Road, about 12 miles north of Union Station. Six of the 13 passenger cars toppled over, and 97 of the 176 persons on board were treated at area hospitals.

Yesterday, 16 of the 17 patients who had been admitted Monday remained hospitalized, hospital representatives said.

All were listed in good or fair condition except an 81-year-old woman at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda who was still in serious condition.

The investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board will take at least six to eight months, NTSB spokesman Paul Schlamm said yesterday.

NTSB Vice Chairman Carol Carmody said heat might have caused the tracks to buckle or bend, but added that many other possible causes need to be examined, including track signals, crew performance and prior maintenance on the track.

The temperature of the rail was 118 degrees, she said.

Miss Carmody said that the train engineer told investigators he saw a "misshapen area" from about 500 feet away, about 45 seconds before the train derailed. The engineer applied the brakes and the train derailed, she said.

Investigators found the track in the area was as much as 30 inches out of alignment, she said.

NTSB's team of eight investigators, headed by Miss Carmody, joined specialists from CSX, Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the railroad crew unions Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and United Transportation Union at the site, Mr. Schlamm said.

Investigators were divided into teams to look specifically at railroad track maintenance, operations on the eastbound Capitol Limited Amtrak train before the accident, mechanical aspects of the accident, human performance, survival factors such as injuries sustained by passengers, and the emergency response to the situation, Mr. Schlamm said.

Two event recorders have been recovered from the train and will reveal the exact speed of the train and the actions the engineer took.

The cost to CSX, which is responsible for the cleanup, had not yet been determined.

Amtrak determined three of the rail cars were unsalvageable and several others needed repairs. The company had not determined how much the accident will cost, said Bill Epstein, director of government affairs for its Northeast Corridor.

At the site of the accident yesterday, crews uprighted and removed the derailed cars, some of which were taken to Union Station.

Twenty 39-foot strips of railroad track were replaced, Mr. Murphy said.

A Salvation Army team provided oranges, sodas, pizza and bottled water for the crews who worked in the humid, mid-90-degree heat.

Long-distance commuters on the MARC train system endured another day of delays yesterday. MARC, which also uses the track, stopped service on its Brunswick line after the derailment and provided bus service from the Shady Grove Metro station to five of its MARC stations the past couple days.

The buses were scheduled to leave at the same time as the usual train schedule, but the bus trip took 45 minutes to an hour longer than the usual MARC train ride to Union Station, said MARC spokesman Frank Fulton.

About 2,800 passengers use MARC's Brunswick line daily, he said.

MARC spokeswoman Suzanne Bond said commuters will have to take the bus to work this morning but will be able to return home by train starting at 1:45 p.m.

Shuttle buses will run to the Shady Grove station from the Martinsburg and Duffield stations in West Virginia and from the Brunswick, Point of Rocks and Monocacy stations in Maryland. MARC passes will be honored on the shuttle buses and on the Metro system.

Service on MARC's Penn and Camden lines isn't affected.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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