Train Derailment Investigation Continues

Just after the train derailed, an explosion collapsed nearby buildings

CSX and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators are still working to determine what caused a train derailment in Baltimore County Tuesday afternoon.

The CSX freight train derailed in the Rosedale section of Baltimore County around 2 p.m. Tuesday, causing an explosion and sending thick plumes of white and black smoke billowing into the sky.

The train apparently collided with a trash truck in the area of Lake Drive and 66th Street about a mile east of Interstate 95, causing 15 cars to derail and two to catch fire, which led to an explosion.

Officials say there was no crossing guard separating the train tracks from the roadway.

The driver of the truck, 50-year-old John J. Alban, Jr., was taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. Alban is a retired Baltimore County firefighter and volunteer firefighter with the Hyde Park Volunteer Fire Company. There's no word on his current condition.

A CSX locomotive engineer and conductor who were on the train were not seriously hurt.

Two of the burning rail cars carried chemicals used in industrial processes: fluorosilicic acid and teraphaelic acid, said John Hohman, Baltimore County fire chief.

Another car carried a material the U.S. Department of Transportation classifies as a hazardous material: sodium chlorate, an oxidizer used in many industrial processes.

However, fire officials determined that the chemicals that were on the burning cars were not toxic when inhaled, and therefore the smoke was not an immediate threat.

But crews battling the blaze had to be careful as the chemicals could have mixed with water and soil.

"We had to let things burn so we could make a determination," said a spokesperson for Baltimore County Police.

After the derailment, an explosion rattled homes at least a half-mile away and collapsed nearby buildings, officials and witnesses said. The explosion took facing off one nearby warehouse and blew in the garage doors of another, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said.

Firefighters remained on scene through Tuesday night, deeming the fire under control just over 10 hours after it began.

Fire department spokeswoman Louise Rogers Feher said several buildings "fell apart" and two warehouses were significantly damaged. The derailment happened in an industrial and commercial area where several offices are located.

Only the derailed train cars that could be moved were taken from the scene.

Plumes of smoke from the accident drifted across the Baltimore city line and covered the eastern part of the city, with the clouds visible to drivers traveling north on Interstate 95 through downtown Baltimore.

Eric Beverly filmed video of the explosion in its early stages.

"It was just crazy, so we get closer and the next thing you know... 'BOOM!'" Beverly told News4.

People in homes and businesses in a 20-block area nearby were told to shelter in place and some people evacuated voluntarily, but no mandatory evacuations were ordered.

A shelter was set up at the Rosedale Volunteer Fire Company at 8037 Philadelphia Road.

Firefighters used hand-held sensors to detect hazardous materials, News4 Washington's Jackie Bensen reported.

HAZMAT crews, a tactical rescue team and a BWI foam truck were among hundreds of emergency responders from Baltimore City and neighboring counties at the derailment, and the National Transportation Safety Board launched a go team to the site.

The HAZMAT crews cleared the scene Tuesday at approximately 9 p.m. 

Harnek Singh told News4 he felt the impact from outside his liquor store on Pulaski Highway. He described a “big blow-up like it’s a bomb, and I feel … air pressure, and a lot of things dropped into my building.”

Almost a half-mile away, a window broke at a McDonald's.

Dan Cook, who works nearby on 68th Street, told WBAL the blast blew some metal signs off his building. "It was a pretty big explosion," he said.

Dale Watson, who lives about a half-mile away from the scene, said that the smell of chemicals was very strong. "[The blast] shook my house pretty violently and knocked things off the shelves," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

Tawan Rai, an employee at a nearby Dunkin Donuts, said he saw a fire and flames by the railroad tracks at first, then felt a thundering blast that sent smoke pouring into the sky. "The whole building shook and there was just dust everywhere," he said, adding no windows broke but he was surprised by the intensity of the blast. "I went outside and people were rushing there, the police officers, fire trucks."

John Kane, treasurer of Atlantic Tire on Pulaski Highway, said the explosion blew out two large showcase windows and light fixtures in his shop.

Some nearby businesses shut down because their owners were fearful of the contents of the smoke.

At S. DiPaula & Sons Seafood Inc., a good-natured voice left an outgoing message on the answering machine to tell customers the business was closing early for the day. "Hello, this is S. DiPaula & Sons Seafood," the message said. "Today is Tuesday and it's around 2:30 in the afternoon. We have decided to close due to a large explosion relatively close to our building and a heavy black plume of smoke that we can't tell what's in it."

The train, which was en route from Selkirk, N.Y., to Waycross, Ga., was being pulled by two locomotives and had 45 cars, carrying a variety of products, including lumber and printing paper.

Pulaski Highway, which runs parallel to the tracks about a block away, was closed between Chesaco Avenue and the Baltimore city line, police said. Some side streets also were shut down. Motorists were told to avoid the area.

The National Transportation Safety Board will oversee Baltimore County Police's investigation into the accident.

Amtrak said the derailment and fire in Baltimore had not affected its service. The derailed train was on CSX tracks that are not near Amtrak tracks.

Less than a year ago, a CSX derailment killed two college students in Ellicott City, Md. According to an NTSB report, 21 of the train's 80 cars derailed, including six that fell into a public parking area below the elevated track. The cars spilled coal throughout the area, crushing and suffocating two young women who had been sitting on a railroad bridge near the train tracks. The cause of that derailment remains under investigation.
In each of the past five years, CSX has reported more than 100 deaths in accidents and incidents involving the railroad.

The Federal Railroad Administration says CSX reported 104 deaths last year, down from 122 in 2011, and 117 in 2010. The railroad reported 102 deaths in 2009 and 122 in 2008.

The number of derailments on CSX's network in the eastern United States has been declining steadily since 2008 when it reported 229 derailments. Last year, CSX reported 143 derailments.

CSX, based in Jacksonville, Fla., operates more than 21,000 miles of track in 23 eastern states and two Canadian provinces.

The derailment is the third serious one this month. On May 17, more than 70 people were injured in Bridgeport, Conn., when a Metro North commuter train derailed while headed east from New York City. It was struck about 20 seconds later by a westbound train.

In Rockview, Mo., on Saturday, a cargo train crash injured seven and destroyed a highway overpass. Repairs could take a year, authorities said.

This story was written by Matt Stabley and Cari DiMargo and reported by Jackie Bensen, Shomari Stone, Adam Tuss, Amber Ferguson, Lindsay Cayne and Mila Mimica.

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