Train was speed­ing in mo­ments be­fore crash

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By David Porter As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers Michael R. Sisak in Philadel­phia and Joan Lowy in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., con­trib­uted to this re­port.

The en­gi­neer hit the emer­gency break less than a minute be­fore im­pact, fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors say.

A New Jer­sey Tran­sit com­muter train sped up and was go­ing twice the 10 mph speed limit just be­fore it crashed into Hobo­ken’s ter­mi­nal last week, killing a woman on the plat­form and in­jur­ing more than 100 peo­ple, fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors said Thurs­day.

The train’s en­gi­neer hit the emer­gency brake less than a sec­ond be­fore the train slammed into a bump­ing post at the end of the rail line, went air­borne and hur­tled into the sta­tion’s wait­ing area, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion re­leased by the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board.

The NTSB said the find­ings were gleaned from a data recorder and video from a for­ward-fac­ing cam­era in the front of the train.

Ac­cord­ing to the NTSB, the train was trav­el­ing at 8 mph and the throt­tle was in the idle po­si­tion less than a minute be­fore the Sept. 29 crash. Ap­prox­i­mately 38 sec­onds be­fore the crash, the throt­tle was in­creased and the reached a max­i­mum of about 21 mph, the agency said. The throt­tle went back to idle and the en­gi­neer hit the emer­gency brake less than a sec­ond be­fore the crash, in­ves­ti­ga­tors said.

NJ Tran­sit trains have an in-cab sys­tem de­signed to alert engi­neers with a loud alarm and stop lo­co­mo­tives when they go over 20 mph, ac­cord­ing to an NJ Tran­sit en­gi­neer who wasn’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the ac­ci­dent and spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

The en­gi­neer said the throt­tles have eight slots, putting the fourth spot at about half power. The en­gi­neer said the throt­tle should be set to idle, or the first and slow­est speed spot, when en­ter­ing Hobo­ken Ter­mi­nal. The tracks into the sta­tion run slightly down­hill, so there would be no need to push the throt­tle any higher, the en­gi­neer said.

An NTSB spokesman said he didn’t know if the alert sys­tem went off. He said it’s be­ing looked at as part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Video from the train’s for­ward-fac­ing cam­era showed the front of the train smash­ing into and over­rid­ing the bumper at the end of the track, caus­ing a large flash, in­ves­ti­ga­tors wrote.

The force of the col­li­sion dis­lodged part of the ter­mi­nal ceil­ing and sent con­crete and wires rain­ing down onto the train. Wit­nesses de­scribed pulling bleed­ing sur­vivors out from un­der piles of de­bris while other pas­sen­gers kicked out win­dows and jumped out.

Thurs­day’s re­port con­tained no analysis of the data re­trieved and no ex­pla­na­tion for why the train in­creased speed. NTSB tech­ni­cal ex­perts and the par­ties to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion are sched­uled to meet in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., next Tues­day to con­tinue re­view­ing the data and video from the train.

The dam­aged train, which orig­i­nated in Spring Val­ley, New York, about 35 miles away, was to be re­moved Thurs­day evening, a New Jer­sey Tran­sit spokes­woman said.

Also Thurs­day, New Jer­sey Tran­sit im­ple­mented a new rule for pulling into two of its sta­tions.

The con­duc­tor must join the en­gi­neer when­ever a train pulls into Hobo­ken Ter­mi­nal or its At­lantic City sta­tion, NJ Tran­sit spokes­woman Jen­nifer Nel­son said. That means a sec­ond set of eyes will be watch­ing as a train en­ters the fi­nal phase of its trip at sta­tions where there are plat­forms at the end of the rails. The New York Times first re­ported the policy.

The en­gi­neer was alone when the train crashed into the Hobo­ken sta­tion. He has told fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors he has no mem­ory of the crash.

Some rail safety ex­perts cau­tion that hav­ing a sec­ond per­son in a cab isn’t au­to­mat­i­cally safer, since crew mem­bers can some­times dis­tract each other. In 1996 out­side Wash­ing­ton, D.C., a com­muter train en­gi­neer was thought to have been dis­tracted by a con­ver­sa­tion with a crew mem­ber, caus­ing a crash with an Am­trak train that killed 11 peo­ple.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors re­cov­ered the data recorder, a video recorder and the en­gi­neer’s cell­phone from the front car of the NJ Tran­sit train on Tues­day. The equip­ment was sent to an agency lab in Wash­ing­ton for analysis.

A fi­nal re­port on what caused last week’s crash could take a year or longer to com­plete.


New Jer­sey Tran­sit trains sit on the tracks at the Hobo­ken Ter­mi­nal in Hobo­ken, N.J., on Thurs­day.

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