(Rosedale, Maryland – May 28, 2013)
The driver of an 18-wheeler received serious injuries just after 2:00 P.M. Tuesday afternoon when his rig was struck by a 45-car CSX freight train being pulled by two locomotives and hauling a number of tank cars of hazardous materials, several of which derailed, and one of which caught fire and exploded shortly after the collision and derailment near a large industrial park in Rosedale, MD, just a few miles northeast of Baltimore. Investigators believe that the crossing involved was the 68th Street crossing, which has only standard railroad crossbucks as protection even though nearly two dozen CSX trains roll across the tracks there daily at a top allowable speed of 50 mph, and the average daily vehicular traffic count numbers 2300 highway vehicles, 70% of them trucks similar to the one involved in Tuesday’s accident. The train was traveling from Selkirk, NY and was bound for Waycross, GA, and derailed a total of 15 of its freight cars.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said that John J. Alban, Jr., the driver of the semi-trailer truck, had to be extricated from the remains of the truck tractor’s cab, and was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was admitted in serious but stable condition. The two-member CSX crew aboard the train was not injured.
Members of the Hyde Park Volunteer Fire Dept. identified Alban as one of their most active volunteers, saying he ran his own trash hauling business and was a retired Baltimore County firefighter.
Not only was the crossing not equipped with any automatic, active protective devices, such as the flashing lights, bells and crossing gates the Association of American Railroads claims could prevent 94% of grade crossing accidents such as Tuesday’s, but heavy tree and underbrush growth near the crossing made sight distance virtually nonexistent.
Although the fires from the burning cars could be seen for miles, there evidently was relatively little concern until a massive explosion shot flames and debris an estimated 300 feet into the afternoon sky. Baltimore County Spokeswoman Elise Armacost had earlier said that the train was carrying “unknown chemicals,” but that the smoke being emitted by the fire did not include toxic inhalants. Regardless, emergency officials still established a 20-block evacuation zone surrounding the crash site.
CSX Spokesman Gary Sease said via e-mail that one of the chemicals being transported by the train was sodium chlorate.
According to hazardous material sources, sodium chlorate can be extremely toxic if ingested, and carries a risk of both fire and explosion should it come in contact with other chemicals.
Another chemical on board the train was terephthalic acid, a white, powdery substance which is an irritant to the eyes and nasal passages, and can cause kidney damage if there is long-term exposure.
Whether or not it was the sodium chlorate or some other volatile chemical that exploded, the force was felt miles away. At the school of Greater Grace Church, several blocks distant from the explosion, Mike Veader, head of security for the church, witnessed the explosion from the church/school parking lot. “The ball of fire looked like the one in Texas, the same thing,” said Veader, referring to the explosion of the West, TX fertilizer plant about a month ago that killed 14 emergency responders and fire fighters.
Another eye-witness, Eric Beverly, 22, drove toward the flames and was recording them from a distance in his car when the explosion occurred. “We had no idea it was going to blow up,” shuddered Beverly. “I had my son in the car with me, and my thinking basically was to get away.”
After the explosion, Baltimore County Fire Chief John J. Hohman said that fire crews would allow the fires to burn themselves out instead of exposing firefighters to further risk of explosions. He added that “the evacuation would be much more significant if there were toxic chemicals,” and that he expected the fires to burn through the night.
By 4:00 P.M., Spokesman Keith Holloway from the virtually exhausted National Transportation Safety Board announced that the NTSB had assembled a “GO” team to investigate the accident even though many of its inspectors were still working the head-on collision of two Metro North commuter trains that occurred in Connecticut Friday, May 17, and a T-bone collision between a Union Pacific train and a Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight near Cape Girardeau, MO early Saturday morning, May 25.