2 college students killed when coal train crashes off bridge

2 college students killed when coal train crashes off bridge »Play Video
Officials walk past part of a CSX freight trail that derailed overnight in Ellicott City, Md., Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (AP) - A CSX train hauling coal derailed and fell from a bridge near Baltimore, killing two college students who were on the tracks and crushing vehicles in a parking lot, authorities said.

Twenty-one of the train's 80 cars flipped over around midnight Monday, Howard County officials said. Cranes were brought in Tuesday morning to remove train cars from the vehicles at a county-owned lot so they could be searched for other potential victims.

"Many of those train cars fell onto automobiles, literally fell onto automobiles with the coal," Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said. "So you have massive piles of coal and heavy train cars on top of automobiles."

The victims were Elizabeth Conway Nass, a student at James Madison University in Virginia, and Rose Louese Mayr, who attended the University of Delaware, Howard County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn. They were both 19 years old.

Police did not immediately say what the women were doing on the tracks. The railroad is easily accessible from the picturesque downtown of Ellicott City, where there are several bars and gift and antique shops in converted old buildings. Ellicott City is about 12 miles west of Baltimore.

Two train operators were not harmed, officials said.

Authorities planned a news conference later Tuesday morning as residents surveyed the damage and checked to see if their cars, or their friends' cars, had been damaged. Several gray train cars were still on the bridge while others could be seen derailed farther down the rail line. A number of cars were in a wooded area of the train track that runs along the Patapsco River.

Benjamin Noppenberger lives downtown and said he was getting ready for bed when he heard the derailment. He said he and his wife thought it sounded like gunshots and waited about 10 minutes to go outside. "We could see all the cars that fell over. I just saw catastrophe," he said.

Jill Farrell, a 35-year-old assistant professor who lives across the street from the tracks, said she heard what sounded liked squealing brakes and then a huge crash.

"It actually sounded like trains went off the tracks, and then silence," she said.

CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan said that the train was traveling from Grafton, W.Va., to Baltimore.

It's unclear what caused the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating.

Streets in the area were closed early Tuesday.