CSX officials say that a train that recently derailed near Baltimore, Maryland suffered an explosion and subsequent fire earlier this week due to a hazardous chemical on board several of the railroad cars. The explosion was strong enough to rattle neighboring homes and even damage buildings in the area and was likely caused by the presence of highly explosive sodium chlorate.
The National Transportation Safety Board says it is reviewing evidence from the scene of the derailment. So far, the NTSB believes that a garbage truck was stopped on the track, which led to the collision. Investigators say the train was moving at 49 miles per hour before the collision. The engineer blew his horn three times before the railroad accident; the first horn was sounded 17 seconds before impact. The driver applied the emergency brake, but only came to a complete stop a mile from the scene of the accident.
The train had 45 cars, four of which contained hazardous materials. The force of the collision with the dump truck led to smoke only seconds after the accident. Flames were first spotted within a minute but it took another five minutes before the explosion occurred. The ensuing fire produced a plume of smoke that could be seen for miles.
Cleanup crews have already descended on the area with cranes and excavators to remove the mangled railroad cars and tear down commercial buildings near the tracks that were damaged in the explosion. CSX also says it is working with state and federal environmental officials to clean up the chemicals that were released into the surrounding area following the derailment. State officials are busy conducting air, water and soil tests to ensure the area is safe for residents to return to.
The driver of the garbage truck, John Alban, was seriously injured in the accident and remains in critical condition at Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. Authorities have not yet revealed the names or condition of the CSX employees on board the train at the time of the crash. A public records search found that Alban had previous criminal infractions involving talking on a cellphone while driving and failing to secure a shopping container on his truck. Police have not yet said whether they intend to charge Alban for his role in the CSX derailment.
Safety experts have expressed concerns about the risk that the burning chemicals could produce toxic inhalants. Toxic inhalation hazards are a worry when railroad cars carrying hazardous materials derail. Derailments have resulted in deadly consequences before, such as a 2005 crash in South Carolina involving a Norfolk Southern train carrying chlorine. The spill ultimately killed nine people who were poised by the release of toxic gas.