Railroad retaining wall collapses in Charles Village

No injuries reported as parked cars topple into a CSX right-of-way along 26th Street. Was this a collapse waiting to happen?

26th 3

Cars, the sidewalk, a fence, a retaining wall and a still-upright streetlight that fell onto the railroad tracks.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Lee Truelove, who lives on East 26th Street opposite the deep gully used by CSX trains, saw it happen.

At about 3:45 p.m., “the cars on that side [of the street] went about three feet down. And the wall began to tip,” Truelove said, standing at the St. Paul Street intersection in the driving rain. She called 911 and the railroad, she said, and alerted her neighbors to come look.

“Then 15  minutes later, the whole thing just went,” she said. “It was gone in 15 seconds.” Truelove called the landslide both “exciting and creepy.”

Close to a dozen parked cars – together with the retaining wall, concrete sidewalk, iron fence and lone street light – slid down the embankment, burying the tracks in debris.

View of the 26th St. collapse from St. Paul Street. (Photo by Fern Shen)

View of the collapsed street from St. Paul Street. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Like an Earthquake

The sound, when it fell, was loud. Bob Leffler, an ad executive with offices on North Charles Street, was on the phone with a client when he heard the groaning roar.

“It was like the earthquake,” said Leffler, referring to the August 2011 quake that struck the city. “It didn’t shake like that, but it was really loud.”

No one was injured, according to city officials and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who briefed reporters at the scene.

The collapse came on the second day of a pounding storm  that has dumped over four inches of rain in the Baltimore region, causing widespread flooding.

“Slumping” for Months

As a precautionary measure, city officials evacuated houses on the north side of 26th Street. Residents gathered on the street this evening.

Several told The Brew they had noticed the street pavement cracking and slumping for months. Leffler said there were other signs the retaining wall was not stable.

Recently, he said, that he noticed, a “dip” in the street near the retaining wall, while the sidewalk abutting the wall seemed to be buckling upward.

Truelove said she has been worried about the slumping street for even longer and suspected “it might go” because the street had collapsed once before, in the 1980s, on the other side of Margaret Brent Elementary School.

“I have refused to park my car on that side for the past two years because I was worried it was going to collapse,” she said.

Asked about reports that people have complained repeatedly to the city about problems with the street, Rawlings-Blake said she had “no information” about the reports and would be looking into them.

Two cars lean over the collapsed retaining wall at 26th and Charles streets.

A view of cars that pitched down into the gully just east of Charles Street. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Complaints about the rail line on 26th Street date back decades, with residents complaining in a 1998 Baltimore Sun article that the wrought-iron fencing and walls around the rail right-of-way had been eroding for 15 years, “leaving gaping holes in the residents’ protection from a 30 foot drop onto the CSX train tracks.”

“I’m just sick of the condition of railroad properties in our city,” then-Councilman Bernard C. “Jack” Young is quoted as saying. “Overpasses are falling in.”

The stone retaining walls were a relic of the 1890s construction of the B&O’s “Royal Blue” line to New York that ran under Howard Street and then turned east along 26th Street along a right-of-way about 25-30 feet below street level.

The large open space on 26th Street between Charles and St. Paul streets was originally planned for a small passenger station.

The station was never built; instead, the railroad decided to build a central station in a then more populated area on Mt. Royal Avenue. Passenger rail service between Baltimore and New York ended in the late 1950s.

The single-track line now sees about 20 freight trains a day as the main route north for CSX.

The railroad suspended service immediately and dispatched crews for what might be several days of cleanup.


Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake briefs the media on 26th Street road collapse. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake briefs the media on 26th Street road collapse. (Photo by Fern Shen)

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  • Andrew

    I told you transit in Baltimore was going downhill.

  • trueheart4life

    Note to Mayor Rawlings-Blake: In the interest of transparency please release the results of your fact finding inquiry to the public, soonest!

  • ushanellore

    The rain took charge,
    it descended in sheets,
    and curtained the air
    it frightened as it pelted the Earth
    the Earth yielded, shook and slid
    and took with it man’s possessions
    where the road broke off in slabs
    cars leaned on their sides,
    men who watched swore
    they had portended the event
    which was recorded and posted
    for all to see and gasp
    that against the force of wind and water
    man’s creations are as mites–
    crashed, pushed and pulverized.

  • River Mud

    The odds of someone other than the City of Baltimore being on the hook for this repair are between slim and none. The railroad easement is likely 100+ years old and lays all of the maintenance (away from the track bed) on the City. I’ve worked on other CSX properties and easements. They (and the companies that were the basis of CSX) externalized as much cost as possible.

    • matthew brandley

      I beg to differ on this one. With CSX deffering all types on maintenance since they are so busy on the gateway clearance and lowering railbeds in the system I bet you this comes back to bit them since reports of this had surfaced for years and the retaining wall did give way. Derailment over the Skyuykill expressway in Phila was blamed on a faulty temp rail fastener? lame excuse. Bridge is 90 years old and needs to be replaced

      • lanas

        regardless of whether they will ultimately be held accountable, this is on CSX’s head. I ride their lines every day. They do just-enough, just-in-time (sometimes too late) maintenance. How do you think they became a Buffet darling? by rigorously balancing their expenditures on maintenance with the financial losses if they dont do the maintenance.

        • River Mud


      • River Mud

        You were right – CSX has agreed to foot the bill. A bit surprised to hear it. Happy to be wrong.

  • Matt R

    Odds are, given that there are about 10 blocks of railbed built the same way from Sisson to Greenmount Ave, that all of those blocks will need work soon to avoid this from happening again. Unfortunately, CSX isn’t known for it’s stellar property maintainance, all you have to see are the broken fences, unmaintained fixtures, crumbling bridges and jungle that it allows to grow on just about all of its properties.

  • matthew brandley

    CSX would be responsable for maintaing the retaing walls along the row correct? Then if its proven that they neglected to correct the problem after being notified by the city then they have a major issue. They are so worried about daylighting tunnels in D C instead of mainting what they have

    • cbroome

      You wouldn’t think it, but CSX has no shortage of lawyers. If they handle this the same way they handle auto accidents on their poorly marked lines, they’ll successfully make a scapegoat out of the city. I put money on hearing a CSX lawyer address the situation with something like: “We certainly would’ve repaired the wall if Baltimore City’s safety inspectors had done due diligence and reported the structural deficiencies.”

  • Tom Gregory

    Baltimore mayor as a walking Under Armour advertisement. Pathetic.

    • Matt R

      Of course they are going to put their brand on what they own…I wonder if JP Grants name is on her rear end…

  • staituned

    Jealous? Your brand must be Dickie’s.

  • ted fotiou

    Wow, good thing ,no one was hurt..I imaagine this will happen on a widescale, with all the watyer logged regions by flooding in the southern united states and eastern seaboard.with the infastructure over a hundred years old and service down,the money is not there to upgrade.By the way,they should also use kwh poly ethelyene pipe,it is good for at least 200 years,but likely more.

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