2 women killed as train derails in historic Ellicott City

The derailment of an 80-car CSX train in the heart of historic Ellicott City left two women dead. Howard County Executive Ken Ulman tells WTOP no one in Ellicott City can "remember a derailment of this magnitude ever happening here."

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. – Two people are dead after 21 of 80 CSX train cars derailed or overturned in the heart of historic Ellicott City early Tuesday.

Police identified the victims as Elizabeth Conway Nass and Rose Louese Mayr. Both are 19 and from Ellicott City. Nass attended James Madison University. Mayr attended the University of Delaware.

The derailment occurred around midnight as the eastbound 80-car CSX train hauling coal traveled across a bridge over Main Street. At least 23 of the cars were hauling coal.

“Many of them (train cars) flipped over off of the bridge onto the ground,” said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who spoke to WTOP at the derailment scene.

The train cars crushed automobiles on a nearby county-owned parking lot used by people visiting Ellicott City’s bars and restaurants.

“If you can picture train cars on their side on top of automobiles with big piles of coal, that’s the scene that we have,” said Ulman, describing the scene early Tuesday.

“Our folks searched every vehicle they could get into with all the equipment they have,” said Ulman.

“There were a lot of people here. The cars in that parking lot were here, in the bars and restaurants,” he said.

Crews are now cleaning up the coal that spilled from the train cars.

After that, a huge crane will be used to lift the CSX train cars off of the crushed automobiles.

Ulman says authorities will then look through the wreckage for additional victims.

He said he is “hoping and praying” there are not additional victims.

“I can’t remember a derailment of this magnitude ever happening here.”

Nass and Mayr were on the tracks of the bridge when the train derailed.

“The investigation is underway … We really don’t know why they were there, at this time,” Ulman said.

The teens’ bodies were found seated on the edge of a bridge that crosses over Main Street, according to Howard County police. It appears that the girls were facing east, toward Baltimore County, while the train passed behind them.

When the train derailed and some of the cars tipped, both teens were buried under the coal that spilled, police said. The exact cause of death will remain unknown until autopsies are performed.

Two women with names that match the victims — Elizabeth Nass and Rose Mayr — have Twitter accounts that were active just prior to the derailment. Howard County police are working to verify the accounts by looking at the teens’ cell phones.

Police say the two train operators were unharmed in the incident.

Ulman and police say the train was not carrying any hazardous materials.

“Certainly, it could have been a lot worse from an environment standpoint, had it been carrying a hazardous chemical,” Ulman told WTOP.

Ulman said that on Wednesday a team will walk the length of the Patapsco River to see whether there is coal in the river. The train tracks run along the river between Baltimore and Howard counties.

“I would encourage people to stay clear,” Ulman tells WTOP. “This is an ongoing search operation that will take some time.”

Ulman said Frederick Road and Main Street are closed from Ellicott City into Baltimore County.

“We’re working as hard as we can to get it open as quickly as possible,” Ulman said of the man artery through Ellicott City

But before the road can reopen, engineers will have to determine the structural integrity of the bridge and the retaining walls.

“This is our gem. We just can’t open everything up until it’s completely safe,” Ulman said.

CSX is investigating the cause of the derailment, and so is the National Transportation Safety Board.

The 9,000-ton train was traveling about 25 mph when the derailment occurred, says NTSB Railroad Investigator Jim Southworth. It is considered an acceptable speed for this area.

He said the train’s event recorder has been recovered. Video on it will be reviewed as part of the investigation.

“We’ll be looking at the signals and communications. We’ll be looking at the operations. We’ll be looking at track,” Southworth said.

On Tuesday afternoon, NTSB investigators gave an update on the situation. The train crew said they saw and felt nothing before the train’s emergency braking system kicked in, suggesting the train operators did not brake because they saw the teens sitting on the bridge.

WTOP’s Andrew Mollenbeck, Kristi King, Colleen Kelleher and Lacey Mason contributed to this report. Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)