Hu­man er­ror, tech­ni­cal failure probed in deadly NJ train crash

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGEN­CIES and ZHOU PAI in Hoboken, New Jer­sey

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a New Jer­sey com­muter train that hur­tled into a sta­tion build­ing Thurs­day raises many fa­mil­iar is­sues from other crashes, in­clud­ing whether the tragedy could have been pre­vented or mit­i­gated if a key safety tech­nol­ogy had been in place.

The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board, which is lead­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, has been call­ing on rail­roads to start us­ing the safety tech­nol­ogy, called pos­i­tive train con­trol, or PTC, for nearly four decades.

New Jer­sey Tran­sit is in the process of in­stalling the tech­nol­ogy, but it was not in op­er­a­tion yet on any of the agency’s trains or tracks.

A com­muter train plowed into a sta­tion in New Jer­sey at the height of Thurs­day’s morn­ing rush hour, killing a woman on the plat­form and in­jur­ing more than 100 peo­ple as it brought down part of the roof and scat­tered de­bris over the con­course.

Wit­nesses de­scribed ter­ri­fy­ing scenes as the front of the train smashed through the track stop at high speed and into the Hoboken ter­mi­nal, top­pling sup­port col­umns and cre­at­ing chaos at one of the busiest tran­sit hubs in the New York City area.

“I heard a ka­boom, and the whole place shook ... [I] just saw peo­ple on the ground, bleed­ing and try­ing to get up. I didn’t know what hap­pened, I [was] still think­ing a bomb,” said Wil­liam Blaine, a freight train en­gi­neer in Hoboken who was on the train. “I was just like 30 sec­onds away from be­ing killed.”

“We have no in­di­ca­tion that this is any­thing other than a tragic ac­ci­dent but ... we’re go­ing to let the law en­force­ment pro­fes­sion­als pur­sue the facts,” New Jer­sey Gov­er­nor Chris Christie said at a news con­fer­ence in Hoboken along­side New York Gov­er­nor Andrew Cuomo.

Train No. 1614 orig­i­nated in the town of Spring Val­ley in New York state and was at the end of its hour­long jour­ney when it crashed.

The train’s en­gi­neer, or driver, was in­jured and taken to a hos­pi­tal but later re­leased, of­fi­cials said.

US Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board Vice-Chair­man Bella Din­hZarr told a sep­a­rate news con­fer­ence in Hoboken that in­ves­ti­ga­tors would re­trieve the event recorder, which tracks speed, brak­ing and other data, from the rear of the train on Thurs­day night.

She said the train was op­er­at­ing in a “push-pull con­fig­u­ra­tion” in which lo­co­mo­tive-hauled trains can be driven from ei­ther end. The train had an en­gine that was push­ing four cars in­clud­ing the con­trol­ling, or cab, car in front, of­fi­cials said.

“Our in­ves­ti­ga­tion will con­tinue here on scene for seven to 10 days,” Dinh-Zarr said.

Mike DeFusco, a Hoboken City Coun­cil mem­ber, said: “I was here this morn­ing watch­ing first re­spon­ders do an amaz­ing job tak­ing care of those in­jured.”

The New Jer­sey med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice iden­ti­fied the vic­tim as Fabi­ola Bit­tar de Kroon, 34, of Hoboken. The woman was a for­mer em­ployee in the Brazil­ian le­gal depart­ment of SAP, the tech­nol­ogy com­pany said in a state­ment.

Cuomo said it was ob­vi­ous the train came into the sta­tion too fast, but it was un­clear why. The cause could be hu­man er­ror or tech­ni­cal failure, Cuomo said.

He added that it was too early to say whether an anti-col­li­sion sys­tem

known as pos­i­tive train con­trol (PTC) could have pre­vented the crash. PTC is de­signed to halt a train if the driver misses a stop sig­nal, and ad­vo­cates cite it for helping to com­bat hu­man er­ror.

The crash re­news fo­cus on the manda­tory anti-col­li­sion sys­tem that has been plagued with lengthy, con­tentious de­lays. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by NJ Tran­sit to the Fed­eral Rail­road Ad­min­is­tra­tion for the first half of 2016, the pub­lic trans­port sys­tem does not have PTC in op­er­a­tion on its 326-mile network.

New Jer­sey Tran­sit ranked sec­ond for the most train ac­ci­dent re­ports na­tion­wide for com­muter rail­roads from Jan­uary 2007 through June 2016, be­hind Am­trak.

New Jer­sey Tran­sit had 271 ac­ci­dents, or 18 per­cent of the to­tal, com­pared to Am­trak’s 44 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to data from the US Fed­eral Rail­road Ad­min­is­tra­tion Of­fice of Safety Anal­y­sis.

Mike Lar­son, who works as a ma­chin­ist for NJ Tran­sit, was 30 feet away from the train just be­fore it slammed into the plat­form. He told The Jour­nal News of Westch­ester County, New York, that the train’s speed ap­peared to be about 30 mph.

The speed limit in the sta­tion is 10 miles (16 km) per hour, the NTSB’s Dinh-Zarr told re­porters.

The ter­mi­nal, listed on the New Jer­sey Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places, was de­signed in the Beaux Arts style and con­struc­tion fin­ished in 1907. It lies on the Hud­son River’s west bank across from New York City. Its sta­tion is used by many com­muters trav­el­ing into Man­hat­tan from New Jer­sey and New York state.

Hoboken is the last stop on the lines it serves.

A cou­ple of hun­dred emer­gency work­ers spent the morn­ing shut­tling in and out of the sta­tion, some car­ry­ing the in­jured on stretch­ers to am­bu­lances out­side. Fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors later be­gan ex­am­in­ing the wreckage.

Linda Al­belli, a 62-year-old from Closter, New Jer­sey, was sit­ting in one of the train’s rear cars and de­scribed how she had felt some­thing was wrong a mo­ment be­fore the im­pact.

“I thought to my­self, ‘Oh my God, he’s not slow­ing up, and this is where we usually stop,’” Al­belli said. “We’re go­ing too fast, and with that there was this tremen­dous crash.”

As in­ves­ti­ga­tors searched for clues to the cause of the ac­ci­dent, some said it could and should have been pre­vented.

US Sen­a­tor Richard Blu­men­thal of Con­necti­cut, a Demo­crat on a Sen­ate com­mit­tee that in­cludes trans­porta­tion mat­ters, said the crash was “haunt­ingly sim­i­lar” to past tragedies in­volv­ing in­suf­fi­cient or un­safe prac­tices or equip­ment. Blu­men­thal has called for the roll­out of the anti-col­li­sion sys­tem.

The his­toric green-roofed Hoboken Sta­tion is served by NJ Tran­sit com­muter trains con­nect­ing much of New Jer­sey with the coun­try’s largest city, as well as the Port Au­thor­ity Trans-Hud­son sub­way­like sys­tem known as PATH, a light rail ser­vice and ferry ser­vice to New York.

In May 2011, a Port Au­thor­ity of New York and New Jer­sey train crashed at Hoboken sta­tion, in­jur­ing more than 30 peo­ple. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the NTSB de­ter­mined ex­ces­sive speed was the main cause of the ac­ci­dent. Zhang Xiao­tian con­trib­uted to this story.


A de­railed New Jer­sey Tran­sit train is seen un­der a col­lapsed roof af­ter it de­railed and crashed into the sta­tion in Hoboken, New Jer­sey, on Thurs­day.


A New Jer­sey Tran­sit train that de­railed and crashed through the sta­tion (exterior pic­tured right) is seen in Hoboken on Thurs­day, killing a woman and in­jur­ing more than 100 peo­ple.

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