Reporting Mike Hellgren
ROSEDALE, Md. (WJZ) — A train barreled into a truck crossing the tracks in Rosedale. The explosion was heard miles away. Was it a freak accident or an accident waiting to happen?
Mike Hellgren uncovers what really happens at these crossings and why we’re seeing trouble on the tracks.
Tragedy struck in Baltimore County.
John Alban Jr. drove his truck across the tracks in Rosedale, like he had so many times before. He narrowly escaped with his life but the impact caused a massive train loaded with chemicals to derail and explode.
“Anybody who doesn’t stop there and look back and forth, they’re out of their mind,” said Richard Drehmer.
And it’s not only a problem in Maryland. The danger is real. Across the country on average, there are more than five accidents at railroad crossings every day.
The Rosedale crossing had no gates. WJZ found only one in five Maryland crossings do. WJZ’s research revealed 178 accidents at Maryland crossings in the past 10 years. During our investigation, WJZ staked out ungated crossings and watched time and time again as drivers casually crossed the tracks without a second look. Our cameras captured cars speeding over ungated tracks in Jessup. Most drivers never paused to see if a train was coming. In Halethorpe, a bus never came to a required stop before crossing the tracks. In Dundalk, tracks without gates run through busy neighborhoods and in schools—and in many cases, cars and trucks never slow to check the tracks.
“It’s just common practice to jump over those tracks,” said Trisha Blackburn.
Along Chesterwood Road in Baltimore County, the warning signs and pavement markings are badly in need of repair. At another crossing, the vegetation is overgrown and the sign that’s supposed to warn you of an oncoming train isn’t visible.
Dr. Allan Zarembski, who heads the University of Delaware’s Railroad Safety Program, says putting gates everywhere is impractical and expensive. He says the main problem is drivers who don’t pay attention.
In Rosedale, the trucker admitted talking on his cell phone through a hands-free device.
“It’s suicidal,” Zarembski said. “A freight train, even going at a modest speed, will not be able to stop in sight distance.”
So what’s being done about it? State agencies tell WJZ nothing is new after the Rosedale crash, although they have ongoing programs to evaluate crossings and replace worn-out signs.
That frustrates some lawmakers.
“I can tell you I get a little nervous every time I go over,” said Delegate Pat McDonough. “It takes a disaster to get politicians’ attention.”
Leaving the thousands who speed over ungated tracks across this state largely on their own.
CSX, which owns the railroad passing through Rosedale, told WJZ it encourages drivers to obey traffic laws and is always working to prevent collisions. Right now, the company is suing Alban, saying he was incompetent to operate his company’s trucks in a safe manner.