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Accident Report Detail

CSX Freight Train Derailment and Subsequent Fire in the Howard Street Tunnel

Executive Summary

On Wednesday, July 18, 2001, at 3:08 p.m., eastbound CSX freight train L-412-16 derailed 11 of its 60 cars while passing through the Howard Street Tunnel in Baltimore, Maryland. Four of the 11 derailed cars were tank cars: 1 contained tripropylene, a flammable liquid; 2 contained hydrochloric acid; and 1 contained di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, which is a plasticizer and an environmentally hazardous substance. The derailed tank car containing tripropylene was punctured, and the escaping tripropylene ignited. The fire spread to the contents of several adjacent cars, creating heat, smoke, and fumes that restricted access to the tunnel for several days. A 40-inch-diameter water main directly above the tunnel broke in the hours following the accident and flooded the tunnel with millions of gallons of water. Five emergency responders sustained minor injuries while involved with the on-site emergency. Total costs associated with the accident, including response and clean-up costs, were estimated at about $12 million.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board, after an exhaustive investigative effort, could not identify convincing evidence to explain the derailment of CSX freight train L-412-16 in the Baltimore, Maryland, Howard Street Tunnel on July 18, 2001.

No preaccident equipment defects or rail defects were found. Computer simulations were used to evaluate locomotive event recorder data, train profile data, track profile data, and preaccident track geometry data. These simulations indicated that neither train operations nor changes in track conditions alone likely resulted in a derailment. Available physical evidence and computer simulations also showed that the most likely derailment scenario involved an obstruction between a wheel and the rail, in combination with changes in track geometry. However, postaccident fire, flooding, and necessary emergency response activities, including removing burning freight cars from the tunnel, significantly disturbed the accident site; and, no obstruction was identified that could be convincingly connected to wheel climb and evidence was insufficient to determine changes in track geometry.

Accident Location: Baltimore , MD    
Accident Date: 7/18/2001
Accident ID: DCA01MR004

Date Adopted: 12/16/2004
NTSB Number: RAB-04-08
NTIS Number: