Investigators said an engineer in training was operating a CSX freight train at legal speeds when it derailed in Ellicott City early Tuesday morning, killing two 19-year-old girls.
Officials with National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the train wreck, said they had reached no conclusions about what caused the train to derail, spilling some of its 9,000 tons of coal onto nearby roads, cars and in some waterways along the track.
As of Wednesday, 18 of the 21 derailed cars of the 80-car train had been inspected and removed from the scene, according to NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss.
|Funeral plans set|
|Funeral services have been set for the two teens killed in the train derailment.|
|Funeral services for Elizabeth Nass, a student majoring in interdisciplinary liberal studies at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., are planned for Friday at the Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City. Funeral services for Rose Mayr, a nursing student at the University of Delaware, were planned for Saturday at Bethany United Methodist Church in Ellicott City.|
Crews were removing lengths of the track Wednesday, loading pieces of rail onto flatbed trucks to be taken to a separate location and put back together -- a standard part of the NTSB's rail accident investigations, Weiss said.
Track issues are one of the leading causes of derailments, according to Federal Railroad Administration data.
Lead investigator Jim Southworth said the train was traveling the speed limit in the area -- roughly 25 mph. Emergency brakes were deployed automatically, not by the engineer in training, who was onboard with another engineer and a conductor. They were not injured.
(See more photos from the derailment scene)
It's not clear if the braking was caused by or was the cause of the derailment, which crushed college students Elizabeth Nass and Rose Mayr under tons of coal as the teens sat along the edge of the CSX bridge in Ellicott City.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., called for a speedy investigation into the cause of the third CSX derailment in Maryland this month, and the second to occur in Howard County.
"CSX must get to the bottom of what went wrong and outline what steps they are taking to ensure it will never happen again," Mikulski said.
The wreck occurred on one of the oldest parts of the CSX system -- the first section of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, from Baltimore to Ellicott City, opened in 1830.
Track conditions have long been a concern for CSX and Norfolk Southern, which are known to transport heavy loads of coal, according to former NTSB chairman Jim Hall. The large weights can take years off the life of a track, he said.
Nearly 500 people a year are killed while trespassing on tracks, according to the rail agency -- 411 were killed in 2011.
FRA spokesman Warren Flatau said part of a train crew's job is to observe and report behavior of pedestrians to highlight problem areas along the tracks.
Though the tracks are CSX's jurisdiction, the company works closely with local officials to prevent trespassing, said CSX spokesman Gary Sease. Pedestrian access to tracks "continues to be a problem with CSX and all the country's railroads," he said.