In­ves­ti­ga­tors yet to ques­tion engi­neer in deadly train crash

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Michael Balsamo and Michael R. Sisak Sisak re­ported from Philadel­phia. As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers David Porter and Dake Kang; Me­gan Trim­ble in Philadel­phia; Jen­nifer Peltz in New York; and Joan Lowy in Wash­ing­ton con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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 Gal­lagher, but “un­for­tu­nately, as you may know, he was in­jured, so we’re sched­ul­ing the in­ter­view with 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, the NTSB re­trieved the event recorder that was in the lo­co­mo­tive at the rear of the train but hasn’t been able to down­load its data and has gone to the man­u­fac­turer for help, Dinh-Zarr said. The event recorder con­tains speed and brak­ing in­for­ma­tion.

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

In­ves­ti­ga­tors were also re­view­ing se­cu­rity video from the sta­tion, set­ting out to in­spect the nearby tracks, and gath­er­ing records on the crew mem­bers’ train­ing, sched­ul­ing and health, Dinh-Zarr 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. Au­thor­i­ties have given no de­tails on his in­juries.

“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. “Was it er­ror by the engi­neer? Did he have some type of med­i­cal emer­gency or cir­cum­stance that ren­dered him un­able to con­trol the train? Was there some equip­ment fail­ure that didn’t al­low him to slow down?”

Gal­lagher’s union, the Broth­er­hood of Lo­co­mo­tive En­gi­neers and Train­men, said it could not com­ment be­cause it is tak­ing part in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The other par­ties to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion are the Fed­eral Rail­road Ad­min­is­tra­tion, NJ Tran­sit and two other rail­road unions.

Wit­nesses said they did not 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.

Bumpers are meant mainly to de­note the end of a track, not to stop a fast­mov­ing train, said David B. Clarke, who runs the Cen­ter for Trans­porta­tion Re­search at the Univer­sity of Ten­nessee, Knoxville.

Some bumpers are de­signed to absorb the im­pact if a slow-mov­ing car gets loose, but the max­i­mum speed one can han­dle can be as low as 5 mph in some cases, he said. Trains are sup­posed to stop well clear of bumpers, Clarke said.

Fall­ing de­bris from the crash killed 34-year-old Fabi­ola Bit­tar de Kroon, who had just dropped her tod­dler daugh­ter off at day care be­fore rush­ing to catch a train. 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.

The wreck has raised ques­tions of whether tech­nol­ogy called pos­i­tive train con­trol would have made a dif­fer­ence if NJ Tran­sit had in­stalled it. The GPS-based sys­tem is de­signed to pre­vent ac­ci­dents by au­to­mat­i­cally slow­ing or stop­ping trains that are go­ing too fast.

Rail­roads are un­der gov­ern­ment or­ders to in­stall pos­i­tive train con­trol by the end of 2018. The dead­line has been re­peat­edly ex­tended at the in­dus­try’s re­quest.

IAN SA­MUEL — VIA AP

This photo pro­vided by Ian Sa­muel shows the scene of a train crash in Hobo­ken, N.J., on Thurs­day, Sept. 29, 2016. A com­muter train bar­reled into the New Jersey rail sta­tion dur­ing the Thurs­day morn­ing rush hour, caus­ing se­ri­ous dam­age.

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