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Freight Train Derailment Upends CommutersEmployees Scramble for Other Modes of Travel; Probe Continues

Days after a freight train derailed, District commuters are still finding different ways into work.

On Tuesday, two days after the accident, the Maryland Transit Administration warned of “significantly reduced service” on the MARC commuter rail Brunswick Line, which connects Washington to western Maryland and West Virginia.

Trains on the line were crowded, The Associated Press reported.

Further, District-bound trains were stopping in Silver Spring, the station before the capital. Passengers continuing into Washington have been required to transfer to the Metro rail system and, in the afternoon, Brunswick Line trains departed from Silver Spring instead of Washington.

CSX officials had said that 15 of the 16 cars that derailed have been put back on tracks to be moved. The final car was to be taken away by trailer as investigators continued their probe into why a CSX freight train derailed near a Metro stop in Northeast early Sunday.

The derailment reportedly sent about 10 cars off the tracks, spilling hazardous material from one of them, CSX officials said.

The incident happened at about 6:40 a.m. near 9th and Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast. Although no evacuations were immediately ordered, officials did say that one of the cars leaked sodium hydroxide, a chemical used to produce a number of household products like soap and detergent.

CSX Spokeswoman Kristin Seay said sodium hydroxide is a highly corrosive chemical that can irritate and burn the skin and eyes. Seay said CSX is working with first responders to contain the chemical.

It was not immediately clear what caused the derailment. Photos tweeted by D.C. Fire and Emergency showed cars in a zigzag line across the tracks.

Chris Nellum told the local CBS News station that he lives nearby and his window looks directly over the tracks.

“I thought it was like a semitruck coming toward the building and when I looked out the window, I saw cars piling up,” said Nellum, who had just moved in the night before. “So I’m not even used to hearing trains. It was jarring.”

Part of Rhode Island Avenue was closed in both directions. Nellum said his girlfriend tried to leave the area and was told to stay put, but she eventually found a way out.

“She’s an environmentalist so she is very concerned about whatever is leaking,” he said.

The Red Line’s Rhode Island Station was closed and Metro officials reported delays along that line. Metro officials said it would establish bus shuttle service between the NoMa and Brookland stations.

The CSX train had three locomotives and 175 cars, including 94 that were loaded with mixed freight, and 81 that were empty.

The leak of sodium hydroxide, described as coming from one full tank car, was finally “plugged,” and emergency responders, including hazmat crews, had moved on to the clean-up phase, officials said during a 10:45 a.m. press conference.

“CSX operations and hazardous materials personnel are working with first responders on the derailment this morning in Washington D.C.” CSX said in a statement. “The safety of the community, first responders and CSX’s employees is our highest priority.”

District of Columbia Fire Department Deputy Chief John Donnelly said the fumes that resulted from the incident should not cause problems for residents.

Reuters News Service reported that the chemical spill could stir controversy over CSX transporting hazardous materials through the heart of the U.S. capital.

Over the past five years some D.C. residents and community groups had opposed a major CSX construction project to rebuild and expand a 112-year-old rail tunnel in central Washington, fearing that it would encourage more freight traffic through the city and increase chances of a chemical spill.

The $170 million project will replace the single-track tunnel with a taller, twin-track version that will allow trains carrying double-stacked shipping containers. Construction is now underway following several unsuccessful court challenges.

The derailed train was traveling from Cumberland, Maryland, to Hamlet, North Carolina. It was made up of three locomotives and 175 rail cars, some carrying mixed freight and some riding empty, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said at the news conference. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, sodium hydroxide is a caustic soda. It is white, odorless and solid at room temperature, usually stored as flakes, beads or in granular form.

Bowser said she had not been notified whether the National Transportation Safety Board would be involved with investigating the derailment, but she said an official from the Federal Railroad Administration was on the scene.

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