Broken water main caused flooding in Howard Tunnel, derailed CSX cars this morning

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Photo via Baltimore Fire Department/Twitter

While this morning’s heavy rains proved destructive around the region, officials say flooding that caused a partial derailment in the Howard Street Tunnel and submerged tracks near M&T Bank Stadium was due to an unrelated, if familiar issue here in Baltimore.

Shortly after 10 a.m., Baltimore’s Department of Public Works and Fire Department both posted photos of sections of the heavy rail tracks covered by light brown water.

Agencies said that water pooled up after flowing out from the Howard Street Tunnel. Baltimore Fire Department units, along with personnel from other agencies, responded to “a reported abundance of water” flooding from there shortly after 7 a.m. today, department spokeswoman Blair Adams said in an email.

“When we arrived on the scene, there was about 4-5 feet of water visible on the railroad tracks that was coming from the tunnel,” she said. It had caused three CSX railroad cars to “partially derail.” No one was injured in the derailment.

Baltimore’s Department of Public Works, the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management and Maryland Stadium Authority also responded to the flooding scene. The MTA Light RailLink line that runs alongside the stadium was still operating fine, but MARC and heavy rail service were halted, Adams said.

A CSX spokesperson said late Monday afternoon that service has not been restored. Spokespersons for the Maryland Transit Administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Jeffrey Raymond, a spokesperson for DPW, said they were able to identify the source as a broken 12-inch main near the corner of Howard and Pratt streets.

The good news: The fire department was able to keep more water from flowing out after a certain point by putting up a barrier and pumping it out of the area. And with the leak shut off, the water was already starting to dissipate as of around 12:20 p.m., Raymond said. “Since the line has been turned off, the water outside the stadium has gone down remarkably.”

Maryland Stadium Authority spokeswoman Rachelina Bonacci said at a media briefing around noon that “no fan, no field or team areas were affected,” and that the agency was pleased to see the water receding.

At least one city employee was injured in the aftermath. Raymond said later Monday that a Department of Transportation worker was taken to Shock Trauma while working on repairs related to the water main break. The individual had been working in an underground utility vault at Pratt and Howard streets.

 

Crews were still working to determine the exact location of the damage to the water line, Raymond said. But DPW doesn’t believe the problem was connected to today’s soggy weather.

Meanwhile, locals a few blocks away spotted a spreading mass of brown water in the Inner Harbor.

 

Raymond said DPW believes the dirty plume “may well be connected to the water leak in the area.” Crews were inspecting areas “further upstream to see if there was anything else going on, but chances are the two of those were connected.”

Angela Haren of Blue Water Baltimore noted the ongoing investigation, but also said it’s common to see sediment flood waterways after heavy rains, and that could be the source of the dirtied-looking water.

“If there are construction sites that don’t have proper silt fencing and control measures, it can cause erosion and send sediment into the storm drains,” which lead to the harbor, she said.

“Anytime we see these types of visual plumes, it’s a reminder that anything that runs onto our street goes into our storm drains and the harbor untreated.”

DOT announced shortly before 5 p.m. that Howard Street would be closed between Lombard and Camden streets amid ongoing work on the broken main, with detours in place for drivers. The agency said sections of Pratt, Eutaw and Paca streets nearby were “also affected by the break,” and advised motorists to avoid the area altogether.

This story has been updated.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
Ethan McLeod
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