The CSX train left from Grafton, W.Va., and was bound for Baltimore.
“Many of those train cars fell onto automobiles, literally fell onto automobiles with the coal, so you have massive piles of coal and heavy train cars on top of automobiles,” Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said.
The victims were identified Tuesday as Elizabeth Nass, 19, and Rose Mayr, 19, both of Ellicott City. Howard County police said the young women were sitting on the ledge of a bridge with their backs to the side of the passing train at the time of the derailment, but were not railroad employees; officers did not know why they were there.
Their bodies were found buried under a pile of coal that spilled out from the open cars. Witnesses said the coal on the ground was about a foot high. The train’s three operators were not harmed in the incident, police said. Rescue crews are still working to clean up the coal and searching for more possible victims.
“A CSX [Rail Corp.] has brought in heavy cranes to move those train cars so we can search the vehicles to see if we have any additional victims,” Ullman said. “We hope and we do pray that we do not.”
Jim Southworth with the National Transportation Safety Board said at a news conference the operators saw and felt nothing before the train’s emergency brake was activated. The eastbound train had two locomotives, weighed 9,000 tons and was 3,000-ft-long. It fell into a parking lot near Main Street in Ellicott City. Several other streets have been closed because of the crash.
The damaged cars are being removed from the scene. Southworth said investigators will review video taken from inside the train and conduct an inspection of the track and signal system. Representatives from the Maryland State Department of the Environment surveyed the scene and tentatively said there was no serious impact on the nearby Patapsco River.
CSX expects to resume train operations over its line in Ellicott City starting today. Local law enforcement anticipates the continued closure of the streets in the area immediately around the derailment site due to on-going coal clean-up efforts.
It’s not known what caused the derailment.