HARPERS FERRY – An engineer’s operating error caused the Dec. 21 freight train derailment on a Potomac River railroad bridge crossing, according to a federal accident investigation report.
The seven-car derailment damaged a portion of a pedestrian crossing attached to the railroad bridge that is heavily used by visitors to Harpers Ferry’s historic Lower Town as well as by outdoor hikers and bikers to cross the river into Maryland. The pedestrian crossing on the Goodloe Byron Memorial Bridge, but not railroad traffic over the bridge, has been closed since the train accident.
A description of the accident on a brief, single-page Federal Railroad Administration “incident report” states that the early morning CSX Corp. freight train derailment occurred after the train stopped while crossing the bridge. The train’s engineer re-started the empty 105-car freight with too much initial power
“The engineer used excessive force to make the initial movement with breaks still applied on the train resulting in a string line derailment,” the report states.
The accident report estimated that about $666,000 damage occurred to the seven freight cars directly behind the train’s front-end engine.
The 2:35 a.m. accident destroyed about a third of the bridge’s pedestrian walkway on the West Virginia side of Potomac River. Three empty freight cars had toppled into the Potomac during the derailment.
No injuries were reported.
Public information officials with the railroad agency could not be reached for information and comment on the report. CSX officials have declined to comment on the cause of the accident.
Repairs to the pedestrian crossing began five weeks ago and are projected to be completed sometime in July. CSX has reported that they are paying for the repairs to the pedestrian bridge.
Part of the Appalachian Trail that runs through the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the bridge’s pedestrian walkway is considered a key piece of infrastructure for tourism in Harpers Ferry. The bridge is heavily used by hikers and cyclists to reach trails on Maryland Heights, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath and the Appalachian Trail on the Maryland side of the Potomac.