Lit­tle in­for­ma­tion pub­lic in deadly N.J. train crash

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Michael Balsamo and Michael R. Sisak

HOBO­KEN, N.J. — Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board in­ves­ti­ga­tors held off ques­tion­ing the engi­neer in the deadly Hobo­ken train crash be­cause of his in­juries Fri­day and strug­gled to lift clues from the train’s black box recorders.

Au­thor­i­ties want to know why the NJ Tran­sit com­muter train with engi­neer Thomas Gal­lagher at the con­trols smashed through a steel-and-concrete bumper and hur­tled into the sta­tion’s wait­ing area Thurs­day morn­ing. A woman on the plat­form was killed, and more than 100 oth­ers were in­jured.

NTSB Vice Chair T. Bella Dinh-Zarr said the board, the lead agency in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, has been “in touch” with the in­jured Gal­lagher but has yet to in­ter­view him. She said blood and urine were taken from him and sent for test­ing, stan­dard pro­ce­dure in train ac­ci­dents.

How­ever, a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial said that in­ves­ti­ga­tors from one of the other agen­cies tak­ing part in the probe in­ter­viewed Gal­lagher three times Fri­day. The of­fi­cial, who was not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity, would not dis­close what Gal­lagher said but de­scribed him as co­op­er­a­tive.

Mean­while, in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­trieved the event recorder that was in the lo­co­mo­tive at the rear of the train but haven’t yet been able to down­load its data and have gone to the man­u­fac­turer for help, Dinh-Zarr said. The event recorder con­tains speed and brak­ing in­for­ma­tion.

The NTSB hasn’t been able to ex­tract a recorder from the for­ward-fac­ing video camera in the train’s mangled first car, Din­hZarr said. She said the wreck­age can­not yet be safely en­tered be­cause it is un­der a col­lapsed sec­tion of the sta­tion’s roof.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors were re­view­ing se­cu­rity video from the train sta­tion, set­ting out to in­spect the nearby tracks and gath­er­ing records on the crew mem­bers’ train­ing, sched­ul­ing and health, Din­hZarr said. The engi­neer, con­duc­tor and brake­man “have been very co­op­er­a­tive,” she said.

Gal­lagher, 48, a NJ Tran­sit engi­neer for about 18 years, was pulled from the wreck­age, treated at a hospi­tal and re­leased.

“The one thing we know for sure is that the train came into the sta­tion too fast. Why that is we don’t know,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said.

Some wit­nesses said they didn’t hear or feel the brakes be­ing ap­plied be­fore the crash. Au­thor­i­ties would not es­ti­mate how fast the train was go­ing be­fore it hit the bumper at the end of its track. But the speed limit into the sta­tion is 10 mph.

Fall­ing de­bris from the crash killed 34-year-old Fabi­ola Bit­tar de Kroon, who had just dropped her tod­dler daugh­ter off at day care. Six­teen of the in­jured re­mained hos­pi­tal­ized, two in in­ten­sive care.

More than 100,000 peo­ple use NJ Tran­sit to com­mute from New Jersey to New York City each day. The NJ Tran­sit por­tion of the Hobo­ken sta­tion re­mained closed Fri­day, slow­ing the morn­ing com­mute.

GARY HERSHORN/EPA

An in­jured per­son is trans­ported af­ter a NJ Tran­sit com­muter train wreck in Hobo­ken on Thurs­day. The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board has yet to in­ter­view the engi­neer.

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