Black Box Showed What, but Not Why, for the New Jersey Transit Crash

The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that the minute before the Sept. 29 crash, the engineer suddenly accelerated, hurling the train into the wall of Hoboken Terminal, killing one person. They will work to find out why.

2 minute read

October 10, 2016, 10:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

"In the minute before the crash, the train had been moving toward the platform at just eight miles per hour, the National Transportation Safety Board said," reports Emma G. Fitzsimmons, transit correspondent for The New York Times. The event recorder shows that the engineer then accelerated "to about 21 miles per hour...The speed limit for trains entering the busy station is 10 m.p.h."

Investigators have interviewed the train’s engineer, Thomas Gallagher, 48, who told them he did not remember the accident and woke up on the floor of the cab after the train had stopped.

While train safety experts urged for "automatic braking system" in the form of positive train control, Fitzsimmons writes, "Investigators said they did not know whether the technology would have prevented the crash in Hoboken."

One safeguard New Jersey Transit implemented on Oct. 5 for Hoboken and Atlantic City train terminals is to require "a second crew member to join the train engineer in the operating cab," adds Fitzsimmons. "The measure was aimed at providing a second set of eyes and ears during the final segment of trips into those stations."

On Oct. 1, Fitzsimmons reported that the Federal Railroad Administration "began an audit in June of New Jersey Transit...after noticing an increase in safety violations and a leadership vacuum at the top of the agency...After completing the audit, the federal agency issued a series of violations to the railroad, the official said."

A prescient Planetizen post appeared two days before the fatal crash noting that the NJ Transit’s board of directors had not held a public meeting in 109 days.

"Without public meetings, [legislators, transit riders and advocates] say, it’s impossible to know whether the political fight over state transportation funding is hurting NJ Transit’s ability to operate trains and buses safely."

Good news for NJ Transit commuters: The transit agency will "reopen a portion of Hoboken Terminal to commuter rail service for the start of service on Monday, October 10, 2016," according to a service alert.

Thursday, October 6, 2016 in The New York Times

View of Mount Hood at golden hour with Happy Valley, Oregon homes in foreground.

Clackamas County Votes to Allow ADUs, Residential RVs

County officials hope the zoning changes will help boost the housing supply in the region.

June 18, 2024 - Mountain Times

Single-family homes in a suburban neighborhood in Florida.

New Florida Law Curbs HOA Power

The legislation seeks to cut down on ‘absurd’ citations for low-level violations.

June 16, 2024 - The Guardian

Aerial view of intersection in New York City with yellow cabs and zebra crosswalks.

Planners’ Complicity in Excessive Traffic Deaths

Professor Wes Marshall’s provocatively-titled new book, "Killed by a Traffic Engineer," has stimulated fierce debates. Are his criticisms justified? Let’s examine the degree that traffic engineers contribute to avoidable traffic deaths.

June 13, 2024 - Todd Litman

Digital drawing of person holding city skyline with wifi symbols and lines indicating smart cities or data.

Cities Awarded for Data-Driven Projects

The What Cities Works Certification recognizes cities for using data to solve real problems.

June 21 - Smart Cities Dive

The Basilica of St. Joseph in San Jose, California.

Faith-Based Housing Movement Grows

More churches and municipalities are saying ‘Yes in God’s Backyard.’

June 21 - Vox

Close-up of red and white BUS LANE sign painted in street lane.

Why BRT Can Benefit Cities More Than Rail

Bus rapid transit lines offer a less expensive, quicker-build alternative to rail that can bring other infrastructure improvements with it.

June 21 - Governing

City Planner I

Department of Housing and Community Development

City Planner II

Department of Housing and Community Development

City Planner Supervisor

Department of Housing and Community Development

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.