The city of Baltimore failed to repair a leaking water main above the Howard Street Tunnel in advance of a major break in 2019 that flooded the tunnel, derailed a train and later caused the collapse of an underground structure, according to a lawsuit filed this month in federal court.
The lawsuit claims that the city refused to pay $2.5 million to the plaintiff, rail carrier CSX Transportation Inc., for damage caused by the water main failure.
The complaint also names as a defendant the Maryland Transit Administration, which operates the light rail that runs over the Howard Street Tunnel. The tunnel runs beneath Howard Street for about two miles, stretching from West Mount Royal Avenue to Conway Street.
According to the complaint, city and state officials were concerned that stray electrical current from the light rail was corroding the water main but did not take action to control the problem. CSX complained of expanding leaks from the water main into the Howard Street Tunnel and conducted a joint inspection with city officials before the 2019 flooding, the lawsuit claims.
“Despite personally observing the leaking water mains, the city did not perform any repair work on the water main, or even inspect it, to prevent the July 2019 flood,” CSX’s lawyer, Jeffrey D. Cohen, wrote in the complaint.
Cohen did not return an email requesting comment. MTA declined to comment.
City spokesperson James Bentley said the city “is aware of the lawsuit and will be defending itself through the appropriate judicial process.”
The water main broke on July 8, 2019, causing flooding in the Howard Street Tunnel that derailed a train. No one was injured in the derailment, the Baltimore Sun reported at the time.
MTA also continued running the light rail for seven hours after the tunnel flooded, according to the complaint, which ultimately led to the collapse of an underground “vault” that caused more damage to CSX property.
CSX submitted a claim to the city for $2.5 million to make up for the damage cause by the flooding, the complaint claims, but the request was denied. The lawsuit seeks the full amount in damages plus interest and costs.
The water main break caused significant flooding near M&T Bank Stadium and led to traffic detours in the city’s downtown, the Sun reported.
Several city workers were trapped when the underground vault collapsed and another was injured while conducting electrical work in connection with the water main break, according to the Sun’s reporting.
CSX’s lawsuit claims the city failed to complete repairs to the water mains, which were installed in the 19th century and never replaced, according to the complaint.
“The city had a duty to maintain and replace these aging water mains, but negligently failed to repair or replace the water mains such that a dangerous condition existed,” the complaint alleges. “The city had notice of that condition, and the city failed to remedy that condition.”