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Engineer error named as cause of Harpers Ferry train derailment

By Staff | Jul 3, 2020

In Dec. 2019, a train derailed in Harpers Ferry, leaving seven cars off of the tracks. Toni Milbourne

HARPERS FERRY – Reports have shown that engineer error is to blame in the Dec. 2019 train derailment in Harpers Ferry that left seven cars over the tracks and destroyed portions of the pedestrian bridge across the Potomac River.

The accident occurred in the early morning hours of Dec. 21 when seven empty train cars derailed, two of which landed in the river below the tracks.

A recently released report by the Federal Railroad Administration showed that the engineer used excessive force to make a movement with the brakes still applied.

“As the B80220 began to make a pulling move from a complete stop near BAD 0.2, the engineer used excessive force to make the initial movement with the brakes still applied, resulting in a string line derailment,” the official report says.

The derailment occurred as the train was moving eastbound, crossing the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry into Maryland. The cars, according to CSX official Bryan Tucker at the time of the crash, were “empty grain cars,” with no potential for a hazardous material spill.

Equipment damage estimates caused by the crash are reported at nearly $667,000 in the official write up while track, signal, way and structure damage totaled $100.

The pedestrian crossing on the Goodloe Byron Memorial Bridge, but not railroad traffic over the bridge, has been closed since the train accident. Repairs are underway to restore the bridge, which is part of the Appalachian Trail, allowing hikers and other visitors access to the popular Maryland Heights from Harpers Ferry.

Repairs to the footbridge are expected to be completed by the end of July.