Regulators, police to audit trucking company involved in derailment

Federal regulators and state police plan a wide-ranging review of the waste-removal company owned by the trucker seriously hurt when a CSX train collided with his truck at a crossing. The company, Alban Waste, had been flagged in the past for safety violations.

Because of Tuesday's accident in Rosedale, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and state police plan a top-to-bottom compliance audit. Officials said they would vet the trucking company, its drivers and vehicles for any violations that had gone undetected in previous reviews.

"They'll look the whole company over," said Capt. Norman "Bill" Dofflemyer, head of the state police commercial vehicle enforcement division.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident, and authorities have not determined who was at fault. The crash caused 15 train cars to derail. A chemical in one of them exploded, causing extensive damage to homes and businesses up to a quarter-mile away.

The train was traveling at the regulation speed of 49 mph and gave three horn warnings of its approach, according to the NTSB. The 2003 Mack Granite trash truck can be seen in a local business' surveillance video driving across the tracks without stopping, just as the train approached the crossing.

John Alban Jr., who owns Alban Waste and was driving the truck, was in serious condition Thursday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Alban was the only person injured.

Neither Alban, a retired Baltimore County firefighter, nor members of his family could be reached for comment Thursday. Phone messages and emails to the company were not returned.

Alban Waste ranks in the bottom 10 percent of trucking companies of similar size and type in the nation when it comes to safety compliance, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The company failed its most recent compliance audit, conducted by Maryland State Police on behalf of the federal agency.

On Thursday, Robert Sumwalt of the NTSB said the agency is looking at Alban Waste's safety record as part of its investigation into the derailment, noting that the company has had a higher-than-average number of vehicles placed out of service for violations in recent years.

Investigators also will examine the driver's traffic record, Sumwalt said. Drug and alcohol testing is done as a matter of protocol.

NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said investigators would scrutinize every facet of the accident.

"We're going to go through every piece of paper," Weiss said. "Our investigations are comprehensive in nature, so we are going to look at every record that's available."

Out of 43 inspections conducted on Alban Waste's three trucks in the past two years, a truck was placed out of service for regulatory violations 17 times, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records show. That violation rate of 39.5 percent is nearly double the national average of 20.72 percent, according to the federal agency.

State police last conducted a full audit of the company in November 2011, said Steve Shawyer, compliance manager in Dofflemyer's division.

The company, located near the tracks where the collision occurred, failed the audit because it was not keeping driver qualification files with proper medical and licensing records, and was not ensuring that its drivers were participating in a required random drug and alcohol testing program, among other reasons, Shawyer said.

The company filed a "corrective action plan" in March 2012, outlining how it had addressed the problems, Shawyer said.

State business records show that Alban Waste's business license is active.

The two most recent reviews outlined in federal records since the audit failure show continued problems. The most recent review, April 26, put the company in the bottom 10 percent of its peers nationally, a slight worsening from a rating in March.

After the most recent review, on May 25, Alban was cited on Interstate 95 for failing to secure a container on a Mack truck. On May 18, his son, John Alban III, was cited for failing to wear a seat belt in a truck. And on April 29, days after the last federal review, Alban was cited for failing to secure a container, also on I-95. He was found guilty of that violation May 9 and was fined $140.

In March 2012, a company truck was involved, and the driver received a citation, in a four-vehicle crash in which one person was injured, federal records show. State records show John Alban III was cited for failing to control his vehicle speed to avoid a collision in the accident. He was found guilty in April 2012 and was fined $90.

The company had 20 vehicle maintenance violations, according to federal records, including seven for not properly securing containers and three for not properly securing the rear of a container. Other violations included failing to secure a truck's load, cargo spillage, a defective hazard light and brake problems.

The company had an overall driver compliance rate better than the national rate, and the company has not been cited in the past two years for what federal regulators categorize as "serious violations."

But the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has flagged the company as having exceeded an "intervention threshold" because of its record of safety violations. Such a designation is noted in online regulatory records with a black exclamation mark inside a bright yellow triangle.

The federal agency's website states the marker indicates that "the motor carrier may be prioritized for an intervention, which can include a warning letter, investigation, and identification for a roadside inspection." But Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the agency, said none of those actions are required.

DeBruyne said his agency tends to focus on interstate companies and generally conducts fewer audits of companies that operate in a single state, such as Alban Waste. But the federal agency's flagging of a company often leads to heightened attention or increased inspections by state inspectors, he said.

"All the commercial vehicle inspectors across the country use this tool to pay attention and really focus on areas where it's been shown that the company has had problems complying with the regulations," DeBruyne said.

The worse a trucking company's safety rating, the more likely that state police inspectors will do a thorough review of its trucks, said Craig Talbott, vice president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association Inc.

"If you have a high score, then the probability that they'll have you come around to the rear of the scale house and they'll do an inspection is increased greatly," Talbott said.

The federal rating system helps cash-strapped agencies target resources toward the most egregious violators, said Stephen A. Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, based in Greenbelt.

"It does do a good job at identifying high-risk carriers," Keppler said. Since the current rating system went into effect in 2010, he said, it has made trucking companies more aware of their faults.

"More and more carriers are paying attention to their scores and doing something about it," he said.

But Shaun Kildare, director of research for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a nonprofit with the goal of making U.S. roads safer, said commercial vehicle inspection agencies do not have the resources to properly monitor poor performers.

"The system is the best thing we've got right now," he said. "They really need a lot more inspectors, they need more funds."

Baltimore Sun reporters Steve Kilar and Alison Knezevich contributed to this article.

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