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Feds: Distracted driving led to train derailment, explosion

A 2013 train derailment and explosion in Rosedale was the result of a distracted truck driver who failed to ensure that the tracks were clear before attempting to cross, according to a report released by the National Transportation Safety Board.

A nearly year-long investigation by the federal agency found that the May 2013 collision between a CSX train carrying chemicals and a trash truck was caused by driver negligence.

As a result, the board is recommending a prohibition on the use of hands-free cellphone devices while operating commercial vehicles, according to the report.

“Current laws may mislead people to believe that hands free is as safe as not using a phone at all,’’ Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart said in a statement. “Our investigations have found over and over that distraction in any form can be dangerous behind the wheel.”

John Alban, then 50, was behind the wheel of a 2003 Mack Granite Truck on the afternoon of May 28, 2013, as it attempted to cross the tracks using a private road.

Alban, the owner of Alban Waste LLC, told investigators he received a phone call just before crossing the tracks. At the same time, a CSX train pulled by two locomotives was approaching the intersection at 49 mph. Investigators wrote that the train sounded its horn three times but that the truck driven by Alban failed to stop. The train struck the on the passenger side.

The truck overturned and the first 15 cars of the train derailed, including two cars carrying chemicals including sodium chlorate crystal and terephthalic acid. Those chemicals were spilled, and a post-crash fire resulted in an explosion five minutes later.

That explosion damaged nearby businesses as well as homes and other buildings a half-mile away.

Federal transportation investigators said limited sightlines along the ungated crossing and a lack of oversight by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which allowed Alban Waste to continue to operate despite “a serious and consistent pattern of safety deficiencies,” as contributing causes to the accident.

Alban, a former Baltimore County firefighter, had five motor vehicle violations on his record at the time of the crash including: operation of handheld telephone while operating a motor vehicle in 2011; failure to carry registration card in vehicle; operating a motor vehicle while not restrained by seat belt in 2006; operating a motor vehicle while not restrained by seat belt in 2002; defective lights in 1998; and exceeding maximum speed limit by 10 mph in 1997.

Alban was issued seven traffic citations by Baltimore County police related to the accident. Ultimately he was found guilty of negligent driving, failure to slow down at a railroad crossing and proceeding through the crossing when it was unsafe. He paid more than $530 in fines.

Since the May 2013 accident, improvements to signage at the crossing have been made but a second, less serious, collision between a train and truck occurred in the same area in August.

The release of the National Transportation Safety Board final report on the crash comes a day after Alban and CSX settled a federal lawsuit.

In that lawsuit, CSX claimed $3.7 million in damages related to the incident. Additionally, 43 other claims were made against Alban’s insurer, Harford Mutual Insurance.

In a January filing, the insurance company told the court that Alban carried a $1 million policy and asked the court to help in settling the claims.

On Tuesday, Alban and CSX told the court it had reached a confidential settlement that included all other claims made against Alban’s insurance policy. The terms of that settlement as well as the amounts paid to various claimants was not disclosed in court documents.