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.
October 10, 2016, 10am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"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.

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Published on Thursday, October 6, 2016 in The New York Times
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