Train crash a ‘horror’ in N.J.
1 killed, more than 100 hurt in wreck during rush hour
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.