News Column

Baltimore Train Derails, Explosion Felt for Miles

May 28, 2013

A CSX freight train derailed Tuesday afternoon outside Baltimore, damaging nearby buildings, shutting down US Route 40 and causing a loud explosion that could be felt several miles away.

Authorities in Baltimore County said the 15-car train struck a commercial truck near the 7500 block of Lake Drive, veering off the tracks near an industrial park. Initial reports were that no one was hurt, but County Executive Kevin Kamenetz later said the driver of the trailer was extricated and taken to Maryland Shock Trauma center in serious but stable condition.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced at around 4 p.m. that it was sending a "go-team" that includes rail and hazmat investigators.

Baltimore County spokeswoman Elise Armacost said the train was carrying unknown chemicals but said the smoke did not include toxic inhalants. Still, a 20-block area around the accident was evacuated.

"The evacuation would be much more significant if there were toxic chemicals," said Baltimore County Fire Chief John J. Hohman. He said he expected the fire to burn into the night, and firefighters were huddling with CSX officials about how best to attack the blaze.

Only two people were aboard the train, and they were uninjured, Armacost said.

MTA spokesman Terry Owens said the agency did not expect any disruption of service on the Penn Line between Baltimore and Perryville, Md., which operates on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor. Minor delays were possible on the CSX-owned Camden Line between Washington and Baltimore's Camden Station, as CSX shuffles previously scheduled freight trains.

U.S. 40 was closed westbound at Rosedale Road, and closed eastbound at 64th Street. The State Highway Administration also said the Interstate 95, I-895 and I-695 ramps to Route 40 were closed.

The train did not appear to have made contact with the buildings, aerial images from television news showed. The train cars were flipped, with thick black smoke continuing to billow as a fire burned.

Eric Beverly, 22, said he was driving through the area when he saw the smoke and drove closer, recording video. Suddenly an explosion occurred, and Beverly said he could feel intense heat from 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."

Traffic was jammed on Pulaski Highway as emergency trucks and responders flew toward the fire. All along the way, employees of businesses stood outside and stared at the billowing plume of smoke that could be seen clear into the city.

Residents coming home from work were not being allowed into the neighborhood around the fire.

Jason Digman, 40, who was returning from work when he was turned away at 63rd and Pulaski, said he's seen other train accidents in the area.

"Second since I've lived here over the last 13 years," he said, recalling another derailment and fire about 8 years ago. "My neighbor said windows are busted."

The smell of acrid smoke filled the area as armies of fire trucks and paramedics arrived. A woman in a gold Ford Explorer yelled "I'm just trying to get my kid" to officers blocking her path. They rerouted her.

The front window at the Atlantic Tire shop had blown open and employees stood outside, marveling at the plumes. They said they watched garage light bulbs explode during the explosion.

"Definitely catches you off guard," employee Matt Ashline said. "I want to get over there."

At the Greater Grace Church on Moravia Park Road, nearly 300 students were sheltered in place shortly after the explosion.

Mike Veader, the church's head of security, said he was standing in the parking lot reporting the plume of smoke when the explosion occurred.

"The ball of fire looked kind of like the one in Texas, the same thing," he said, referring to the fatal blasts at a fertilizer plant in Texas.

"It went up probably 300 feet," Veader said

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On Twitter, scores of people reported feeling a "shockwave" as far away as Canton and Pasadena. "Dogs and I all jumped. Neighbor said her curtains blew in!" one Patterson Park resident wrote.

At 2:45 p.m., the National Transportation Safety Board said they would need about an hour to determine their agency's role in investigating the Rosedale crash, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said.

Tuesday's derailment is one of at least three accidents on Maryland railways within a year. Last August, two people were killed in downtown Ellicott City when a train carrying coal derailed and buried them in debris. A preliminary report issued at the time suggested investigators were focused on track conditions, though a final report still had not been issued. Holloway said it can take between 12 and 18 months for a formal investigation to be completed.

The NTSB did not investigate a February derailment north of Elkton in which liquid sulfuric acid leaked from train cars. No one was injured in that accident.

Two employees at S. DiPaula and Sons Seafood, across Pulaski Highway from the scene of the explosion, said Tuesday's explosion was strong enough to knock off pieces of a ceiling furnace and pictures from the walls.

"It was enough to scare the leaving bejesus out of you," said one employee, reached by phone shortly after the explosion. He cut the interview short and said employees would be evacuating. No customers were inside at the time.

Another employee said the explosion "felt like a bomb going off" and compared it to the major earthquake two years ago.

"It was worse than the earthquake," she said.

A worker at the McDonald's on Pulaski Highway, on the opposite side of the street from the tracks, said windows were broken in buildings two miles from the blast.

"Everything shook. The whole building shook," said the worker, who did not identify himself and said the restaurant was closed.

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(Reporters Carrie Wells, Michael Dresser, Erin Cox and Lorraine Mirabella contributed to this report.).

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(c)2013 The Baltimore Sun

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Source: Copyright Baltimore Sun (MD) 2013