This story has been updated.
An 80-car CSX train carrying 9,000 tons of coal derailed in downtown Ellicott City overnight, killing two college students who were hanging out near the tracks.
Elizabeth Conway Nass and Rose Louese Mayr, both 19, were killed when the eastbound freight train came off the tracks of a 20-foot-tall rail bridge near Main Street in the historic downtown area around midnight.
The two women, both from Ellicott City, apparently were posting to Twitter just before they died. (See below.)
“Drinking on top of the Ellicott City sign,” Nass tweeted before the crash. Tuesday morning, both Nass’ and Mayr’s Twitter accounts were public, but Mayr’s has since been set to private.
Howard County police said that 21 of the train’s 80 cars derailed or overturned about 12 miles outside Baltimore, coming off the tracks that run along the Patapsco River to the east. The train was en route from Grafton,W.Va., to Baltimore.
Verizon has said the train derailment disrupted some land-line service Tuesday morning, the Associated Press also reports. The outage affected some government servers.
The AP reports the problems reached the U.S. Navy base as far as Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Lawyers preparing for a Sept. 11 pretrial hearing could not access information stored on government servers, but the connection was restored this afternoon. The company told the Associated Press it is rerouting network traffic to other facilities.
A preliminary investigation indicates that the women were on a walkway alongside the tracks and were crushed by falling coal.
“It was like midnight, I heard the train coming,” recalled Lauren Ward, 23, who lives in a third-floor walk-up apartment in a building about 75 yards from the bridge. “It was really loud screeching. My dresser was shaking in my bedroom. I remember thinking, ‘It derailed.’ ”
In the wreckage, rescue workers found two bodies, later identified as Nass and Mayr.
The Associated Press reports that Nass was a student at James Madison University in Virginia. She made the dean’s list in the fall of 2011 and was a member of Alpha Sigma Alpha’s JMU chapter.
Mayr was a student at the University of Delaware, according to the Associated Press.
Two train operators were on board the train, but neither was injured.
The cause of the derailment remains under investigation. In addition to CSX investigators and Howard County police, National Transportation Safety Board personnel also are on the scene.
According to Jim Southworth, NTSB’s lead investigator, there was a head-in camera on the train. The footage hasn’t been reviewed, and Southworth could not say whether the train struck the women.
It is unknown whether the train operators saw the women on the bridge, but Southworth said there is no indication that they applied the brakes.
When asked whether the women may have caused the accident, Southworth said, “This is an area that we’re looking into very closely — what the operators of the train, the engineer and the conductor, what they saw or didn’t, what the train recorder picked up.”
The 3,000-foot-long train was carrying 9,000 tons of coal and traveling at 25 miles per hour, officials said.
Authorities said one of the train cars fell off the bridge and onto a county-owned lot beneath the tracks, crushing several parked vehicles. Cranes are being brought in to remove the train cars from the vehicles, and investigators are searching for additional victims.
Crews are working to clean up the spilled coal, which also fell into the Patapsco River. Police said no hazardous materials were spilled. The Associated Press reports that about 100 pounds of coal spilled into a tributary of the river, and that more coal lay along the edge of the tributary. Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman Jay Apperson told AP there are concerns the coal will boost the acidity of the water or threaten aquatic life.
Main Street and Frederick Road are closed from Ellicott City into Baltimore County.
T.J. Ortenzi contributed to this report.