Rosedale train derailment creates explosion that broke windows; smoke visible for miles

Train derails after collision with truck; driver at Shock Trauma

May 29, 2013|By Justin Fenton, Justin George and Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun

A freight train smacked into a truck carrying garbage and careened off the tracks in Rosedale Tuesday afternoon, triggering an explosion felt throughout the region and sending up a plume of black smoke visible for miles.

Authorities identified the driver of the truck as John Alban Jr., a retired Baltimore County firefighter who owns a waste collection company near the scene of the crash. The Essex man was listed in serious condition at Maryland Shock Trauma Center Wednesday afternoon, a hospital spokeswoman said. No other serious injuries were reported.

Officials shut down surrounding roads for several hours, slowing traffic through the region. The roads were reopened by Tuesday night, and a spokeswoman for the State Highway Administration said the morning commute should not be affected.

Michael "Vince" Brown, the operations manager at a business near the crash site, was sitting in his office at about 2 p.m. Tuesday when it began to "rumble and shake."

"I screamed at my employees, 'Everyone get in their cars and get out of here now,'" Brown said. "We were on Lake Drive, and I asked if everyone was there, and as soon as I said that, the train blew up. It blew me against my car."

The two workers aboard the two-locomotive, 45-car train — the engineer and a conductor — were not seriously injured, said Gary Sease, a spokesman for CSX Corp. Authorities said 15 cars were involved.

County officials said two rail cars that were carrying chemicals used to make plastic caught fire. Sease said at least one car that might have been involved in the derailment contained sodium chlorate, classified by the U.S. Department of Transportation as a hazardous material.

The crash occurred near the 7500 block of Lake Drive in an industrial section of Rosedale. Authorities did not order evacuations, but asked residents in 70 homes to the west of the crash site to leave their homes voluntarily and provided rides to shelters, Fire Chief John J. Hohman said.

"The evacuation would be much more significant if there were toxic chemicals" on fire, Hohman said as firefighters trained a mix of water and foam on the blaze. The smoke was visible from downtown Baltimore into the evening.

Sease said four of the cars potentially involved contained terephthalic acid, which is used in the production of plastics. It is not listed by the Department of Transportation as a hazardous material. Sease said another car might have contained traces of the hazardous material fluorosilicic acid.

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said its initial assessment was that the risk to the general public is low. A spokeswoman said neither terephthalic acid and sodium chlorate should produce an imminent hazard to the public, and reports of preliminary monitoring from the site did not indicate the presence of highly toxic chemicals.

Health officials advised residents to avoid direct exposure to smoke.

CSX set up a "community outreach center" at a nearby motel to assist those displaced by the derailment. Sease encouraged anyone requiring assistance to go to the Harbour Meeting Room at the Country Inn & Suites at 8825 Yellow Brick Road in Rosedale.

Capt. Bruce Schultz, a spokesman for the county fire department, said the fire was officially brought under control at 11:41 p.m., and crews maintained a "fire watch" overnight.

The fire was contained to two cars on the train. Unaffected cars were moved away from the scene by CSX overnight.

The train, which was traveling from Selkirk, N.Y., to Waycross, Ga., did not strike any buildings, but the force of the crash damaged several structures close by and blew out windows at businesses a mile away.

Brown, the operations manager at Baltimore Windustrial, said a picture of his children and his fiancee fell off his desk, and the building felt as if it was about to collapse. He ran to the front door and found it was too hot to touch.

Outside, he saw an overturned blue tank and flames shooting into the air. He realized workers had to go.

Michael M. Rutkowski, owner of Baltimore Windustrial, which distributes valve pipe fittings, said the building was "completely demolished."

Witnesses began posting images and video to social media. Eric Beverly, 22, said he was driving through from Golden Ring Mall when he saw the smoke and drove closer to record video.

When the explosion occurred, Beverly said, he could feel intense heat inside his vehicle.

"We had no idea it was going to blow up," Beverly said. "I had my son in the car with me, and my thinking was basically to get away. … I thought it was going to explode even more."

The National Transportation Safety Board said a team of 15 rail and hazmat investigators would spend four to seven days investigating all aspects of the incident.

The crash took place at private grade crossing where the only safety mechanism was a sign notifying motorists to stop, Robert Sumwalt, a member of the NTSB, said at a news conference Tuesday night.

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