NTSB has yet to speak with in­jured en­gi­neer in deadly crash

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Michael Bal­samo and Michael R. Sisak The As­so­ci­ated Press

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 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.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

This photo pro­vided by a pas­sen­ger who was on the train when it crashed shows wreck­age at the Hobo­ken, N.J. rail sta­tion. The com­muter train bar­reled into the sta­tion dur­ing the Thurs­day morn­ing rush hour, com­ing to a halt in a cov­ered area be­tween the sta­tion’s in­door wait­ing area and the plat­form.

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