N.J. Tran­sit tops list of ac­ci­dents, safety fines

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES - By Michael R. Sisak, David Porter and Michael Bal­samo

The rail­road whose rush­hour train slammed into a New Jersey sta­tion last month, killing a woman and in­jur­ing more than 100 peo­ple, has had more ac­ci­dents and paid more in fines for safety vi­o­la­tions than any other com­muter rail­road in the coun­try over the past five years, fed­eral safety data show.

Trains run by New Jersey Tran­sit, which op­er­ates the na­tion’s sec­ond-largest com­muter rail­road, have been in­volved in 157 ac­ci­dents since the start of 2011, three times as many as the largest, the Long Is­land Rail Road, ac­cord­ing to an Associated Press anal­y­sis of data from Jan­uary 2011 through July 2016.

NJ Tran­sit had a sig­nif­i­cantly higher ac­ci­dent rate dur­ing that span than the rest of the na­tion’s 10 largest com­muter rail­roads, ranked by week­day rid­er­ship, and had the high­est rate of ac­ci­dents at­trib­uted to hu­man fac­tors, such as speed­ing and drug im­pair­ment. In all, the ac­ci­dents have caused more than $6 mil­lion in dam­age and in­juries to 13 pas­sen­gers.

At the same time, the state-run rail­road has paid $519,280 in fines to set­tle 183 fed­eral safety vi­o­la­tions — nearly $160,000 more than the amount paid by Metro-North, the sub­ur­ban New York rail­road that car­ries slightly fewer week­day rid­ers. They in­cluded 33 vi­o­la­tions for drug or al­co­hol use and 33 vi­o­la­tions of op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures, both more than any other com­muter rail­road.

“It speaks to a cul­ture of not car­ing, of in­dif­fer­ence to the safety of com­muters, and pay­ing fines with­out wor­ry­ing about the ef­fect of their in­fringe­ments,” said Michael La­mon­soff, a lawyer whose clients in­clude a Hobo­ken vic­tim. “This ac­ci­dent is tes­ta­ment to the fact they re­ally don’t care about their com­muters.”

NJ Tran­sit of­fi­cials de­clined to com­ment for this ar­ti­cle, cit­ing the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Hobo­ken crash. In the past, they’ve touted safety as their top pri­or­ity.

Among other key find­ings in the AP’s re­view:

• NJ Tran­sit had an ac­ci­dent rate of 2.7 per mil­lion miles trav­eled, nearly one full ac­ci­dent per mil­lion miles higher than that of the sec­ond most ac­ci­dent­prone rail­road, the Chicago area’s Me­tra.

• NJ Tran­sit had 75 de­rail­ments, mean­ing at least one wheel left the track. That’s more than the next four rail­roads com­bined. Its de­rail­ment rate of 1.27 per mil­lion miles trav­eled was nearly dou­ble that of Me­tra’s.

• NJ Tran­sit’s ex­ten­sive use of over­head power fac­tored in more than onethird of its ac­ci­dents, with 57 incidents in­volv­ing dam­age to the wires or a train’s pan­to­graph de­vice.

• Hu­man be­hav­ior was a fac­tor in 57 per­cent of NJ Tran­sit’s ac­ci­dents — 13 per­cent higher than the next high­est rail­road and oc­curred at a rate of 1.52 per mil­lion miles trav­eled, three times higher than any other rail­road.

• Hu­man be­hav­ior ac­counted for a higher per­cent­age of NJ Tran­sit ac­ci­dents in each of the past three years: 58 per­cent in 2014, 62 per­cent in 2015 and 67 per­cent in the first seven months of 2016.

Fed­eral reg­u­la­tors found dozens more vi­o­la­tions and is­sued ad­di­tional fines dur­ing an au­dit that be­gan months be­fore the Sept. 29 crash at Hobo­ken Ter­mi­nal re­newed ques­tions about NJ Tran­sit’s safety prac­tices. De­tails of the au­dit, spurred by an uptick in incidents and a rash of se­nior man­age­ment de­par­tures, have not been made pub­lic and its re­sults were not counted in the AP’s anal­y­sis.

NJ Tran­sit’s com­muter rail­road serves more than 320,000 week­day rid­ers. It is the third ma­jor com­muter rail­road to face a fed­eral safety in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the past four years, fol­low­ing in­quiries into Metro-North’s spate of ma­jor ac­ci­dents in 2013 and three po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic safety vi­o­la­tions within a week in 2014 on Me­tra.

CHRIS O’NEIL — NTSB PHOTO VIA AP, FILE

This file photo, pro­vided by the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board shows dam­age done to the Hobo­ken Ter­mi­nal in Hobo­ken, N.J., af­ter a com­muter train crash.

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