Local city and fire officials said Tuesday that Montgomery County communities would be prepared for a train derailment similar to the one that killed two in Ellicott City.
“There are certain situations that you hope never occur, but if [they do] you need to make sure that you can deal with it as quick and effectively as possible,” Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz said.
CSX freight and MARC commuter trains traverse the center of Montgomery County, cutting through the hearts of Rockville and Olde Towne Gaithersburg several times per day. In the Ellicott City derailment, a CSX train with two locomotives headed for Baltimore was pulling 80 loaded coal cars from Grafton, W.Va. It derailed on an overpass at Main Street, killing two young women early Tuesday morning, according to CSX. No other injuries were reported.
Twenty-one cars derailed, dumping a still unknown number of tons of coal, said Kelly Mantel, chief of public affairs for the National Transportation Safety Board. The investigation could take several days more, she said.
Capt. Oscar Garcia, spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, said the county has faced train derailments in the past. In 2002, an Amtrak train derailed in Kensington, sending 97 people to the hospital. In 1996, a MARC commuter train and an Amtrak train collided in Silver Spring, killing 11.
Although any derailment, especially a large one, is challenging, emergency responders are prepared for one, Garcia said.
“We do have specified operating procedures for train derailments,” he said.
In large derailments or collisions, Garcia said the county often coordinates efforts with other jurisdictions, such as Washington, D.C., and Prince George’s County.
Skip Lanham, Gaithersburg’s emergency management coordinator, said he thinks the city is well prepared to respond to major emergency situations such as a train derailment.
An event as large as the train derailment in Ellicott City would immediately become a “county incident,” he said. The city does not have its own fire department, and city staff and Montgomery County Fire and Rescue train for such emergencies.
Lanham said the lines of communication between CSX and city staff are open; the city often communicates with the company when smaller incidents occur, such as when there are problems with gates and train crossings.
But when asked if both the city and CSX would know exactly what the response pattern would be in a large incident involving a train, Lanham said it was “something [the city] can improve upon.”
“We have city staff that works regularly with CSX, but it has been a while since we have done large scale train disaster [training],” Lanham said. “… The good relationships you develop, you have to rely on those when large incidents occur.
Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio said the city has had few accidents connected with the railroad, and having trains go through town is a sign of prosperity.
“It says that your town essentially is in harmony and in tune with what’s going on in the busy world,” she said.
If a train were to have a major accident in Rockville, Marcuccio said the city’s fire and police departments are responsive, and plenty of others would come to the city’s aid.
“Rockville is as prepared as any community can be,” Marcuccio said. “... But if you have a major disaster, you don’t just depend on yourself, you depend on your neighbors.”
Marcuccio said the train has been going through the city since the 1800s, and the main issue she has heard people complain about is the noise.
“The railroad is something you essentially accept and live with,” she said.
Mantel said NTSB investigators are reviewing a wide range of information, including the video camera footage shot by the locomotive’s camera. The investigators also are examining the two victims’ Twitter postings from that evening.
The NTSB will look into the condition of the tracks, engineering and human factors and the information on the locomotive’s data recorder, including from a camera mounted at the front of the locomotive, Mantel said.
Staff Writer Elizabeth Waibel contributed to this article.