Train Explosion

Lots of excitement today in Baltimore!

Just after 2:00pm, there was an explosion that shook our whole school building. I had five students in my room, who were back during their lunch period to finish a project or do some make-up work. Right after it happened, we all looked around at each other to see if anyone knew what had happened. A student wondered if something really big/heavy could have fallen on the floor above us; I wondered if it could have been something falling out of a truck just outside. We got up and went outside to investigate. Walking down the parking lot a bit, we could see billows of light grey smoke rising above the building.

Smoke, seen over my school

Smoke, seen over my school

I stayed out in the parking lot for a few minutes, talking with others and checking twitter for updates. A student showed me a video he had made which caught the moment of the explosion, and I learned that what had occurred was a train derailment & fire with multiple explosions.

After ten minutes, I walked with another teacher around the other side of the building, where we could see darker smoke:

Smoke in the distance, seen from the other side of my school

Smoke in the distance, seen from the other side of my school

————————–

OK, so that’s my first-hand account. Now, here’s a news summary with more details on what actually happened:

A photo of the explosion as it occurred, c/o Fox 30's Facebook page

A photo of the explosion as it occurred, c/o Fox 30’s Facebook page

About 2:02pm, a CSX freight train collided with a tractor-trailer, derailing the 15-car train and seriously injuring the truck driver.

A view of the accident from a helicopter, c/o Andrew Carvin

A view of the accident from a helicopter, c/o Andrew Carvin

This occurred about 1.4 miles from my high school:

The collision and derailment started a fire, and smoke rose. People nearby began videotaping the smoke, and thus were able to capture the explosion on camera when it happened a few minutes later.

  • Video (includes much profanity, but also an amazingly loud and graphic view of the blast, just past the 1-minute mark): link1 link2
  • Different video (without profanity but not quite as good a shot of the explosion): link

Apparently the blast was felt by some more than 20 miles away, and smoke could be seen all the way in downtown Baltimore (6 miles away):

View from downtown Baltimore. (c) Justin Fenton, Baltimore Sun

View from downtown Baltimore. (c) Justin Fenton, Baltimore Sun

The train cars that exploded were (from my reading of this tweet) carrying Fluorosilicic Acid and Terephthalic Acid, which are respectively used in fluoridating water and making polyester clothes and plastic bottles. These chemicals gave the smoke a distinct smell. However, a Hazmat team visited the site and the Baltimore County Public Safety Department has declared that the smoke does not contain toxic inhalants.

For more on the story, check out the Baltimore Brew (second photo shows my school in the foreground) or the Baltimore Sun (sorry for the annoying autoplay video).

In my opinion, today’s explosion (taken in the context that train derailments are fairly common), together with the bridge collapse near Seattle last Friday, really serves as a strong signal that we need to invest more in repairing and upgrading our transportation infrastructure.

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