When the derailed train cars full of hazardous chemicals exploded, a shock wave shot through an adjacent industrial park, shattering windows, cracking concrete and buckling metal paneling and roofs.
A year later, the recovery continues.
"We're a long way from being back to normal, that's for sure," said Mike Brown, president of Baltimore Windustrial Co., which had one of its warehouses destroyed and another badly damaged.
The derailment and blast occurred May 28 after a southbound CSX Transportation train collided with a trash truck at a crossing near Pulaski Highway in Rosedale. Several people were injured in the accident, felt as a rumble for miles around, but no one was killed — a fact those most affected by the explosion say they're grateful for.
They're still trying to come to terms with the financial toll, which runs into the millions of dollars.
One of the shock wave's most destructive paths can be plotted by the fallout today, cutting from the tracks through Baltimore Windustrial's new warehouse, still being outfitted for full operation; up a steep embankment through the Plumbers & Steamfitters U.A. Local 486 Training Facility, where employees still aren't back in their heavily damaged offices; and onward to the HaHa Food Market, an Asian grocery that is struggling to win back customers after its roof collapsed.
J.R. Dirkes, HaHa Food Market's manager and buyer, says the explosion cost the company more than $1 million in lost inventory and sales.
"The explosion caved in the roof over the kitchen, and then all the dust and debris that came down got into the food and what have you, and, with Health Department standards, they had to quarantine, salvage or destroy everything that was there," Dirkes said. "They lost all the fresh produce and meats and fish and dry goods. The power went out ... so all their frozen and refrigerated items went bad."
The market only recently reopened, after a kitchen fire ended a previous relaunch in October, Dirkes said. The market has a new and improved inventory of international groceries, he said, but its customer base remains diminished.
"You get forgotten when something like this happens," Dirkes said.
Frustration is evident in many local business establishments, though some operators say they don't have time to focus on it. Most said they have left legal haggling to the lawyers and insurance companies. Most received insurance settlements but said many costs weren't covered.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the accident but found in its initial report that the driver of the truck failed to stop at the tracks. It also found that the stop signs were substandard at the crossing, which had no warning lights or crossing gates.
The impact caused the first 15 cars of the train to derail, some of which began leaking sodium chlorate and terephthalic acid and then exploded.
John Alban Jr., the truck driver who was seriously injured in the collision, did not reply to requests for comment. In a lawsuit he brought against the railroad, Alban blamed CSX and the train's operator for the accident. Alban's suit was dismissed. His attorney, Mark Palmer, declined to comment.
Attorneys for CSX have blamed Alban, saying that he didn't stop as required before crossing the tracks. Police came to the same conclusion, and video from the incident appears to show Alban crossing the tracks without stopping.
CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said in an email that CSX regrets the accident but maintains that Alban is responsible.
"It is unfortunate that this event occurred and that the disruptive effects still linger for some of the businesses and individuals who were involved," Doolittle said. "The event underscores the critical need for all drivers to be cautious as they approach grade crossings."
Many workers in the industrial park witnessed the explosion, felt the shock wave and dodged falling debris. For some, the emotions of the day remain raw — and the lingering discoveries of damage and insurance issues provide regular reminders.
"It is constantly evolving. The more you use the building, the more things you find or uncover," said Al Clinedinst, training director at the Plumbers & Steamfitters facility. "There are some things that are up and away in the ceiling, some things in the roof you don't realize until it rains very hard, as it has recently, and it starts leaking."
Clinedinst said the training school is still trying to determine the final cost of the explosion, which he called "a terrible inconvenience."
The school's insurance company has been cooperative, Clinedinst said, but the process of determining which problems in the building are blast-related has been difficult.
"There's the issue of old cracks, new cracks," Clinedinst said. "This wasn't here, or that used to be there, or now it's larger, or that's just natural shifting. That's not the fun part."
Carrie Foster, operations manager at Superior Distribution, which opened next to Baltimore Windustrial a few weeks before the blast, said her shingle and roofing company lost a huge portion of its peak-season summer business last year as it struggled to work out of a satellite office in Annapolis.
Days passed before Foster and others could even get into the building to see the damage, which included fallen office ceilings, damaged computer equipment and a collapsed wall in the warehouse. They couldn't move stock or access computer databases.
"It made it so we couldn't make deliveries," she said. "We had to turn jobs down."
During the summer, when the company expected to bill $500,000 to $750,000 per month, it only did one-third of that, Foster said.
"It definitely rocked the place," she said. "It pretty much killed our business until September."
Logan Faulkner, the warehouse manager and Foster's son, was outside watching the train wreckage burn when the explosion occurred.
"I just had to duck and cover, and I ran," he said. "I saw pretty big scraps of things flying over my head, so I didn't want to get hit."
First he ran behind the warehouse. Later, he looked inside and was shocked at the damage. He called Foster, who had felt a strange rumble in Dundalk.
"I don't believe I'll ever get on a train after that," he said.
While the emotional toll in Rosedale and nearby residential neighborhoods might never be known, the financial toll has come somewhat into focus, mainly in the courts.
In a lawsuit CSX filed against Alban and his company, Alban Waste, in U.S. District Court, the railroad alleges that Alban is responsible for nearly $3.7 million in damage it sustained.
Doolittle said attorneys "are currently engaged in confidential settlement negotiations."
In another case, Timothy Koerber, an employee at the nearby Layher Scaffolding warehouse, is suing Alban and Alban Waste for at least $1 million for physical and emotional injuries — including post-traumatic stress disorder — after part of the building's roof fell on him in the explosion.
Koerber's attorney, Thomas Mitchell, said the case has moved slowly, in part because of the large number of claims against Alban.
"There were a lot of people impacted, and it's kind of a complicated process to sort through," Mitchell said.
In a third case, Harford Mutual Insurance Co. — with which Alban had a $1 million insurance policy — has filed what is known as an interpleader complaint in U.S. District Court asking its help in settling more than 40 claims totaling more than $10 million made against the policy.
Harford Mutual's attorneys, who did not reply to a request for comment, said in court filings that the company is ready to pay out the $1 million it owes on Alban's policy, but no more.
Various parties have filed responses challenging Harford Mutual's complaint. CSX attorneys asked the court in April to dismiss Harford Mutual's complaint and award the railroad all of the nearly $3.7 million it said it lost, as well as any future damages it incurs.
What will never be recouped are the hours of lost time dealing with the day-to-day frustrations, the little things that add up when a business gets thrown off course, said Baltimore Windustrial's Brown.
With the warehouse that held the company's offices destroyed, administrative employees spent about eight months in a 50-foot trailer, Brown said, driving to nearby convenience stores whenever the toilet froze.
Still, the company made payroll every month and slowly rebuilt, moved into new offices in an adjacent building and became more efficient, Brown said.
He declined to say how much the explosion cost the company out of pocket, but said it is a large amount.
"It would take me days," Brown said, "but I could sit here and add up just an absolute fortune."
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