Train May Have Been Speeding Prior to Fatal Hoboken Crash
The New Jersey Transit train that crashed last week in Hoboken may have been going twice or three times faster than the posted speed limit, according to a source close to the crash investigation.
The early estimate, which was provided by a government official briefed on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation, posits that the train may have been going between 20 and 30 miles-per-hour when it entered the Hoboken Terminal and slammed into a bumper. The speculation is based solely on the extent of the damage to the train and the station after the Hoboken crash, not on the reports of witnesses.
NJ Transit Engineer Doesn’t Remember Hoboken Station Train Crash
The New Jersey Transit train engineer involved in last Thursday’s train crash at Hoboken Terminal says he has no memory of the accident that killed one woman and leftover 100 others injured.
NTSB officials told reporters at a news conference that they have interviewed the engineer, 48-year-old Thomas Gallagher, who indicated that he was well-rested prior to last Thursday’s accident. Gallagher also said he was not aware of any mechanical problems in the moments prior to the deadly Hoboken crash.
According to Mr. Gallagher, he has no memory of the crash itself, only waking up on the floor of the cab in the immediate aftermath. He told investigators that his cell phone was off and stored in his backpack, which officials were able to finally remove from the wreckage this week. In the coming days, investigators will be able to verify whether or not this is true, and will also see if the cell phone has any useful information pertaining to the accident.
Contrary to reports that said the train was moving at a high rate of speed when it entered Hoboken Terminal, Gallagher maintains the train was going about 10 miles-per-hour at the time of the crash, which is the posted speed limit going into the station. A number of witnesses who were waiting on the platform at Hoboken Terminal recalled seeing the train moving faster than normal as it entered the station.
Mr. Gallagher said he did perform a brake test on the train prior to the start of the trip to Hoboken. Investigators have not commented on whether or not the alert system or emergency braking system failed leading up to the crash.
According to North Jersey, Gallagher was subjected to a routine toxicology exam in the aftermath of the accident. The results for the test have not yet been made public.
The Hoboken Crash Investigation Thus Far
NTSB officials have recovered data recorders from the rear of the train and from the control cab. According to a CNN report, the recorders housed in the rear of the train reportedly wasn’t functioning at the time of the crash. In fact, they hadn’t been working since July, according to the report.
As for the recorders in the front of the train, officials have said they appear to be “in fairly good shape.” At this time, it is still too early to know whether the recorders will provide any useful information, as they may not have survived the impact of the accident. If they are functioning properly, they should be able to provide investigators with speed information, throttle positions, braking system details, and a host of other vital train operating parameters.
In addition to the event data recorders, the NTSB will also be examining drone footage and other video surveillance that happened to capture the train in the moments prior to last Thursday’s Hoboken crash. Once the NTSB’s on-site investigation is complete, the train wreckage will be moved to a maintenance facility, where it will be further scrutinized.
New Jersey Transit System Under Federal Audit for Increased Safety Violations
Bella Dinh-Zarr, the vice chairwoman of the NTSB, told reporters that an ongoing Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) audit of New Jersey Transit will “definitely be a part” of the NTSB’s investigation into the Hoboken crash. New Jersey Transit has been the subject of an FRA audit since June after officials noticed increased safety violations and a leadership vacuum at the top of the public transportation corporation.
According to FRA reports, there have been three incidents over the last 10 years in which a New Jersey Transit train has slammed into a bumper at Hoboken Terminal. In 2015, an engineer failed to stop at a red signal and struck a bumper, injuring one person. In a similar incident, an engineer failed to apply a handbrake and a train derailed after hitting a bumper.
The NTSB has been calling for the installation of Positive Train Control (PTC) for decades. PTC has still not been installed on the line leading to Hoboken Terminal. It has been observed that, had PTC been installed, this crash would almost certainly have been avoided.