Federal finding blames train engineer for Harpers Ferry derailment over Potomac River

West Virginia

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. (WDVM) — Federal transportation officials have concluded a rail accident which damaged the Potomac River bridge connection in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia to Maryland was the fault of the train’s engineer.

Some of the seven rail cars that fell into the river and the bridge back in December sustained more than $600,000 damage. The Federal Railroad Administration concluded that the train engineer applied “excessive force” to the brakes, causing the accident. Town officials say they are not surprised by the federal findings.

“A lot of railroad enthusiasts who live here in Harpers Ferry concurred [with the federal report],” says Lynn Pechuekonis, who serves on the Harpers Ferry Town Council. “They told us it appeared the engineer applied too much power, too much acceleration and that yanked the cars off the curve.”

According to CSX officials, the rail cars were empty grain cars and no hazardous substances were being transported. CSX was able to repair its damaged rail line within 24 hours but repairs to the bridge are taking several months because it is owned by the National Park Service.

But despite the pandemic, tourists are flocking to the scenic Harpers Ferry river vista with the start of summer.

James Sweeney has been around Harpers Ferry for a long time. He remembers the recent rail accident well. His advice to prevent something like this from happening again?

“They just need to slow down and be cautious,” Sweeney says.

Repairs to the footbridge should be completed at the end of July.

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