Train crash a ‘hor­ror’ in N.J.

1 killed, more than 100 hurt in wreck dur­ing rush hour

Baltimore Sun - - NATION - By Bar­bara Demick and Matt Hansen

HOBOKEN, N.J. — In­ves­ti­ga­tors are ex­am­in­ing why a packed com­muter train bar­reled into a train sta­tion at such a high speed that it flew onto the plat­form and knocked down a ceil­ing Thurs­day, leav­ing one per­son dead and more than 100 in­jured.

The crash took place at the Hoboken Ter­mi­nal, just across the Hud­son River from Man­hat­tan, at the height of rush hour, about 8:45 a.m. Thurs­day.

Res­cue work­ers were able to pull the crit­i­cally in­jured en­gi­neer out of the front of the train and were ques­tion­ing him about why the train didn’t stop. One woman who had been wait­ing on the plat­form was killed when a ceil­ing sup­ported by col­umns knocked out by the train col­lapsed on top of her.

In May 2011, a sim­i­lar ac­ci­dent took place at the Hoboken sta­tion when a train trav­el­ing at an ex­ces­sive speed plowed into the bumper post at the end of the plat­form. Thirty peo­ple were in­jured.

In past crashes of this type, the cause has been a lack of attention by the en­gi­neer or an in­ca­pac­i­tat­ing event such as a heart at­tack. But in the wake of a pair of ex­plo­sions in New York and New Jer­sey this month, in­ves­ti­ga­tors will also con­sider sabotage or ter­ror­ism, although au­thor­i­ties said there was no ev­i­dence of ei­ther.

“We have no in­di­ca­tion that this is any­thing other than a tragic ac­ci­dent, but we are go­ing to let the law en­force­ment pro­fes­sion­als pur­sue the facts,’’ said New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie at a news con­fer­ence at the sta­tion.

“The train came in at Work­ers in­spect dam­age on a sec­tion of the roof of Hoboken Ter­mi­nal in Jer­sey City, N.J. A crowded com­muter train smashed into the sta­tion dur­ing the morn­ing rush hour Thurs­day, leav­ing one per­son dead and more than 100 in­jured. much too high a rate of speed, and the ques­tion is: Why is that?” Christie said.

Wit­nesses de­scribed pas­sen­gers climb­ing out of the win­dows of the train, bleed­ing from their heads and limbs. Th­es­ta­tion looked like it had been bombed, with the col­lapsed ceil­ing and man­gled beams twisted over the tracks, the smell of burnt metal heavy in the air.

“It was hor­ror,” said Wil­liam Blaine, a train en­gi­neer who had been at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts when the train slammed into the sta­tion. “It was a ‘ka­boom,’ like an earth­quake. It sounded like a bomb.”

Pas­sen­gers stag­gered out of the train with head and leg in­juries amid live elec­tri­cal wires and run­ning water, he said.

Blaine said typ­i­cal rail­road pro­to­col would have re­quired trains to op­er­ate at no more than 10 or 15 mph in the area, slow enough to “stop in time.”

The Hoboken ter­mi­nal is the last stop for hun­dreds of trains that come in from NewJersey and up­state New York. About 50,000 peo­ple pass through it daily.

Nor­mally, trains slow down and stop at a bumper where they dis­charge their pas­sen­gers. But a New Jer­sey tran­sit em­ployee told tele­vi­sion re­porters that the train ap­peared to be go­ing about 30 mph.

“Hewent straight through the bumper block, through the air and took the ceil­ing out,” the worker said.

The train that smashed into the sta­tion was iden­ti­fied as New Jer­sey tran­sit train num­ber 1614, which orig­i­nates in Spring Val­ley, N.Y., and passes through northern New Jer­sey. It car­ried 250 peo­ple.

Pas­sen­gers said they quickly re­al­ized the train was go­ing too fast.

“I thought to my­self, ‘Oh, my God. He’s not slow­ing up, and this is where we usually stop,’ ” Linda Al­belli, 62, told Reuters.

The con­di­tion of the train was so pre­car­i­ous that emer­gency crews had not re­moved the event record­ing de­vice from the en­gine car, said T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, vice chair­woman of the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board, which has opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the crash. She said there was also concern about the pos­si­bil­ity of as­bestos ex­po­sure from the sta­tion’s canopy that col­lapsed atop the train.

Dinh-Zarr said at a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day that the en­gi­neer had been re­leased from the hos­pi­tal and that in­ves­ti­ga­tors would be in­ter­view­ing him. That in­ter­view, along with in­for­ma­tion from the data recorder once it is re­cov­ered, should pro­vide answers as to why the train was trav­el­ing so quickly.

The ac­ci­dent also brought up the ques­tion about why the rail­road had not in­stalled the con­gres­sion­ally man­dated safety sys­tem known as pos­i­tive train con­trol that uses satel­lites and com­put­ers to pre­vent trains from trav­el­ing too fast or miss­ing sig­nals.

“That is ab­so­lutely one area that we al­ways look into for ev­ery rail ac­ci­dent,” Dinh-Zarr said. “The NTSB has been rec­om­mend­ing pos­i­tive train con­trol for 40 years.”

Fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors have said that the tech­nol­ogy, in­stalled on less than 20 per­cent of the tracks for which it has been sched­uled, could have pre­vented many fa­tal col­li­sions caused by inat­ten­tive engi­neers.


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