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The Nation

Relief for Baltimore in Railway Scare

July 22, 2001|From the Washington Post

BALTIMORE — A cracked and blackened acid tanker, the last and most vexing of the toxic train cars that derailed here Wednesday, was gingerly dragged out of the Howard Street tunnel Saturday, ending a chemical scare that throttled this city at the height of the summer tourist season.

Acid specialists, in white protective gear reminiscent of spacesuits, swaddled the hobbled tanker in bright blue tarps, taking special care to cover the broken welding seam that let 8,000 to 10,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid splash onto the ground in the century-old tunnel.

Passing cars honked and motorists waved as the men worked on the tanker, which was pulled from the tunnel by a yellow diesel locomotive owned by CSX, the company whose 60-car train had smoldered and burned in the tunnel since Wednesday afternoon.

The acid tanker, known as Car 53, had been the subject of firefighters' darkest fears and the focus of their most urgent efforts in a narrow tunnel that soot-covered workers described as a hellish zone of smoke and flame, just 60 feet below downtown and only a few steps from Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

As the tanker was dragged away to a rail yard, much of downtown Baltimore returned to normal, with tourists crowding the Inner Harbor and the Orioles and Anaheim Angels suiting up for their game.

Even so, days of work remain, including the removal of six smoldering boxcars carrying rolls of paper and three other boxcars with paper products untouched by flames. Also, inspectors have begun evaluating the condition of the tunnel, which handles much of the East Coast's rail freight. And federal officials will probe the cause of the derailment.

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