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  •   Baltimore Firefighters' Job Near End After Wreck

    By Molly Ball
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    July 23, 2001; Page B01

    Only one boxcar remained inside downtown's Howard Street tunnel tonight, and CSX officials said they hoped to remove it before the start of Monday's commute, though it was unclear how much of the Howard Street corridor might be reopened to traffic.

    A locomotive pulled the next-to-last boxcar from the tunnel about 11 p.m, but city and rail officials said workers cannot inspect the century-old brick-lined tunnel until the last car is removed -- and the interior is cool and the air clear.

    CSX spokesman Rob Gould said that the last car is leaning inside the tunnel but that workers believe they will be able to remove it Monday morning through the northern end of the tunnel, at Mount Royal Station.

    "We have a team ready to go in to assess the structural stability of the tunnel as soon as the air is clear," Gould said.

    Besides the fires -- which have burned inside the tunnel since the 60-car freight train carrying hazardous chemicals, plywood, paper and other materials derailed Wednesday afternoon -- water from a broken 40-inch water main atop the tunnel at Lombard and Howard streets may have undermined the structural integrity of the heavily used passageway.

    Two office towers nearby remained without power, and it was unclear whether they would reopen Monday. Vehicles have not been allowed to cross Howard Street, which is atop the tunnel, hampering east-west traffic.

    The derailment and resulting street closings also have affected light rail north of Camden Yards, and officials said they did not know when it would reopen.

    The marathon effort by firefighters to cool the remaining cars continued today at Howard and Lombard, not far from the water-main break, with firefighters descending into the tunnel via a manhole every 20 minutes to train streams of water on the cars.

    But the mood was calm, and the end was in sight for fire department Battalion Chief Hector Torres, who had endured several sleepless nights in anticipation of this moment. When the last car comes out, he said, "the firefighting end of this operation is over."

    Although much of the flow from the water main break has been curtailed, one valve has remained open because city officials fear that the excavation needed to reach and repair the valve could weaken the tunnel. Officials estimated that as many as 60 million gallons have spewed from the water main during the past four days. Department of Public Works Director George Winfield said the city also must determine damage to storm drains in the area.

    Orioles fans arriving for the first of today's two games reported little or no inconvenience from the operation, which continued quietly nearby.

    Sally and Don Reigart, both 56, of York, Pa., anxiously followed the progress on TV and the Internet and were relieved when Saturday's game went on as scheduled. They had had tickets to today's afternoon game since April. "Now if only the Orioles can finally win," Don Reigart said.

    Business was booming today at the Wharf Rat restaurant on Pratt Street, where manager Jeff Ashton observed about 20 percent more customers than usual for a weekend game day. He attributed the increase partly to the fact that Max's, another popular ballgame eatery down the street, was still closed and blocked by yellow police tape. Max's and two other restaurants have not had electricity since the accident and have lost their perishable inventory.

    Peanut vendor Rob Cremen said the game crowd was unusual: It seemed to descend all at once rather than arriving in a steady stream. "There was no gradual buildup," he said. "The beginning was slow, and then there was one big crowd, like 'foom!' I ended up selling out everything I had."

    Two smoldering train cars removed from Baltimore's Howard Street tunnel sit on the tracks near Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which reopened yesterday.

    © Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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