About 600 commuters faced the worst kind of interruption to their travels on the night of October 8, 2016, when the commuter train they were riding in collided with a maintenance train traveling alongside them. The Long Island train crash caused the first three cars of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) commuter train to derail and resulted in injuries to 33 people.
The Huntington-bound train was traveling east at the time of the Long Island train crash, and was approximately 20 miles east of Manhattan, just outside of New Hyde Park station, when the train derailment occurred at approximately 9:10 p.m.
What Caused the Long Island Train Crash?
No decisive statement has been made on the cause of the train derailment, but officials agree that a single-car LIRR work train running parallel to the commuter train seems to be a key factor.
Speaking with reporters, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Tom Prendergast clarified that some part of the maintenance train entered the “clearance envelope of the other track” on which the commuter train was moving, but did not make suggestions as to why the maintenance train had done so.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo followed up by telling reporters that investigations into the Long Island train crash will have to determine why the work train encroached on the adjacent track.
“Why was the train violating the space?” Cuomo asked. “That’s what we are going to have to find out”.
The collision between the two trains forced some of the commuter train’s walls to buckle and sent its first three cars skidding off the tracks. Following the train derailment, the maintenance train caught fire.
The cause of the Long Island Rail Road crash will be investigated both by the Federal Railroad Administration (FDA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Injuries and Delays After Train Derailment
In an initial statement following the Long Island train crash, Cuomo said that “early reports indicate injuries are minimal” and that 11 people were being treated for injuries, none of which were serious. Later reports, however, would find that 33 individuals were injured in the Long Island train crash (26 passengers and seven LIRR employees), and that of those 33, four were seriously injured. More people were evaluated or treated at the crash site outside of New Hyde Park.
Further complicating the incident, some passengers were trapped inside the commuter train cars in the dark for almost an hour as emergency workers took people off the train by ladder.
Following the train accident, service was suspended in both directions on three branches of the LIRR: The Ronkonkoma, Oyster and Port Jefferson branches. Crews immediately began round-the-clock work to find the cause of the Long Island train crash and to repair the 25 feet of track that was damaged during the collision, and though passengers traveling on Monday morning still faced limited service, full weekday service was restored by that evening.
Increasing Concerns Over Train Crashes
The Long Island train crash comes just nine days after a train crash at a Hoboken, New Jersey terminal claimed the life of one woman and injured more than 100 other people. In that crash, a New Jersey Transit commuter train reportedly suddenly accelerated to more than 20 miles per hour as it approached the station, and plowed into the terminal wall before bringing the roof of the building to the ground. The normal speed limit for entering a station is 10 miles per hour.
The engineer aboard the New Jersey Transit commuter train, Thomas Gallagher, was also injured in the crash and has no memory of the collision. In contrast to initial findings on the speed of the train when it crashed, Gallagher recalled the commuter train traveling at 10 miles per hour immediately before the accident.
In June, federal officials had been investigating New Jersey Transit for a variety of concerns, including an increase in safety violations. After their audit, the officials issued fines to the railroad system.
The Hoboken terminal crash and the train derailment outside of New Hyde Park are just the latest in a number of serious train crashes that have taken place on the East Coast in recent years, and critics say that freight and passenger railroad companies are dragging their feet when it comes to integrating congress-mandated technology that could make train travel safer.
In the wake of this latest incident, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is calling for inward-facing cameras to be added to all railroad systems in the New York City metropolitan area. Schumer hopes the cameras will make train travel safer for commuters and shed further light on train crash causes when such accidents do occur.